Definition of Gratitude
Gratitude is being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
Why Gratitude Matters
The word gratitude is based on the Latin root gratia which means “grace,” “graciousness,” and “gratefulness.” Religious thinkers and moral philosophers throughout history have long appreciated gratitude. Only recently, however, have scientists come to appreciate the positive influence gratitude has on human and organizational performance.
Neuroscience research has shown that positive environments improve the human brain’s ability to solve problems and think creatively. An environment where people possess the character strength of gratitude tends to be more positive. This is the case because individuals show their gratitude in the form of words and acts of appreciation expressed on a regular basis to the people they come in contact with each day, including their family members, friends, colleagues and customers. Receiving appreciation from others meets our human need for recognition, which has the effect of encouraging and energizing us.
Gratitude is necessary to offset the negative bias in news reporting and media that has a 21-to-1, negative-to-positive ratio. Real life is much more positive than reflected in the press because, for the most part, it’s negative events that journalists view as newsworthy. Taking time to reflect on and be grateful for the positive things in our lives is necessary to help us keep a realistic — and more optimistic — perspective so that we will function at our best rather than be dragged down by a barrage of negative news in the media.
Individuals with the character strength of gratitude typically take time to reflect on how much easier their lives are because of the efforts of others, how they could not have gotten where they are today without the help of others, and the beauty, excellence or awe of something they’ve experienced. To develop gratitude in his character and boost his own happiness, productivity and creativity, Harvard psychology professor Tal Ben-Shahar keeps a diary where each day he records three things for which he is grateful. Research supports the wisdom of this practice. In 2002, Emmons and McCullough had test subjects keep diaries for a period of six months. The research participants were split into four groups: people who recorded things they were grateful for, people who recorded daily hassles, people who recorded either positive or negative experiences, and a control group. The results were that the test group that kept gratitude diaries were healthier, more optimistic, happier, more generous and more likely to accomplish their goals. The test subjects who recorded their daily hassles experienced the least favorable outcomes.
Examples of Gratitude in Action
From 1991 to 2001, when Bill George was CEO of Medtronic, a maker of pacemakers, defibrillators, stents, catheters, shunts, and surgical tools, he held a holiday party each year where six individuals who benefitted from Medtronic products told their stories. The event helped Medtronic employees clearly see how their work helped others and made them more likely to be grateful that their work had meaning. Result: Bill George successfully led Medtronic to become one the most respected companies in the world. He was named one of “Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years” by PBS; “Executive of the Year-2001” by the Academy of Management; and “Director of the Year-2001-02” by the National Association of Corporate Directors.
The great British writer G.K. Chesterton was known to be exuberant and exhilarated by life. His writings reflected a sense of wonder and gratitude. Chesterton had a keen sense of observation and appreciated the big and small things in life. About ink, he wrote, “I like Cyclostyle ink, it is so inky. I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud.” Result: Chesterton became one of the major literary figures in the first third of the 20th Century. His productivity was remarkable writing nearly 100 books on a wide-range of subjects including faith and philosophy, mystery, biography, poetry, and social and political commentary.
Three Actions You Can Take to Develop Gratitude as a Leader
1. Take time to regularly and genuinely express your gratitude to the people you lead. Express your gratitude in person or in an email. For items that have truly impacted you or the team, copy your manager as well to show the employee you are also showcasing their efforts beyond their direct environment. Use phrases like: “Thank you,” “I truly appreciate your…,” “I really appreciate your help with …,” “Thank you for helping me with…,” “How can I ever possibly thank you,” “Thanks a million for…,” “I’m so grateful for…,” “I’ll forever be grateful for…,” “I appreciate it,” “I appreciate what you did,” “You have my gratitude,” “Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to… Thank you,” “How can I ever thank you?,” “How can I show you how grateful I am for what you did?,” and “There are no words to show you my appreciation.”
2. Take the time to reflect on things you are grateful for by keeping a gratitude journal. Like professor Tal Ben-Shahar, keep a gratitude diary by writing down each day three things for which you are grateful. If you’re not likely to keep a diary, find a regular time each day that you can pause and reflect on what you’re grateful for that day. You may be grateful for a wonderful friend, a great meal, the warmth of the sunshine, a new favorite song, excellent work you’ve done or the positive impact your work had on others.
3. Encourage your team to express gratitude for what they have done for one another. Take time in your regular team meetings to have team members share things that others have done that have had a positive impact on their performance, mood, and/or day. To get this going, you should take the lead by sharing some things others have done for you. Be sure to include small things, too. For instance, perhaps you could share an example of a friendly gesture or small act of kindness that helped you when you were having a tough day. Doing this on regular basis will help raise your team’s gratitude and awareness of how important it is to help one another.
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