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Gratitude Is Bigger Than November

By Julia A. West, PhD

“It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful”—Brother David Steindl-Rast

While November is the representative month for sharing thanks, gratitude makes us better. It can (and should) be practiced year round.

It’s a scientific fact that gratitude helps us psychologically and socially, changes how we show up for the people in our lives that are important to us, and even impacts how people experience us. Practiced over time, it also helps us physically, increasing available serotonin and activating dopamine production (the pleasure chemical) in our brains to enhance our mood and strengthen the neural pathways that grant us access to positive emotions.

In 2003, psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough ran a study where they asked participants to keep journals for ten weeks. One group was asked to write about five things or people they were grateful for each week, another was asked to write about five hassles that they experienced during the week, and a third group was asked to write about any five events that occurred during the week.

Participants asked to list hassles included the following: hard-to-find parking, spending their money too quickly, and burned macaroni and cheese. Those who listed blessings, on the other hand? The generosity of their friends, learning something interesting, and seeing the sunset through the clouds. Those in the gratitude group scored higher on measures of positive emotions and noted that they felt more connected to others as compared to those who made routine notes about their days or wrote about hassles. A second study, conducted in 2005 by Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson, found that keeping a gratitude journal caused less stress, improved sleep quality, and built emotional awareness.

Besides making us feel good, there’s a multitude of cases to make—human and business-related—on why we should be expressing gratitude. I’m thankful to share some of them here, with you, today.

Gratitude at Work

A little company secret: Every day, Limitless Minds employees share one thing they’re grateful for with one another in a company Slack channel. Beside the fact that it’s fun to know what your coworkers are appreciating, expressing gratitude at work brings higher engagement levels, better idea exchanges, and creativity.

When we occupy leadership roles, we are less likely to show gratitude than when in lower-level roles (unless we are intentional about it!) and more likely to underestimate the impact of our gratitude on others. All this happens while we’re in a better position than ever to have OUTSIZED impact on those around us: on their sense of value, intrinsic motivation, creative flow, and even on their willingness to stay at the company. Additionally, expressions of gratitude can help to clarify job ambiguity for employees (which may be higher in the context of remote work!) by highlighting what they’re doing well.

Unfortunately, a recent Harvard Business Review article noted that 59% of employees say they have never had a boss who “truly appreciates” them. Meanwhile, 53% admitted they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation for their work.

How to fix that? Leaders of hybrid work teams can take advantage of limited in-person encounters with employees to express gratitude face-to-face so that non-verbal cues can shine through. Leaders of fully remote teams should similarly prioritize richer communication mediums like video calls over audio only or asynchronous mediums like email. To make your thanks even more personable, consider utilizing Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White’s Five Languages of Appreciation. You’ve likely heard of the five love languages, and this is similar! Have your team members take the quiz, then proceed accordingly.

Gratitude and “Soft Skills”

Another thing gratitude does oh-so-well? Enhances empathy (one of Dr. Daniel Goleman’s five emotional intelligence components) while reducing aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge. Take-home point? If you want to help yourself get better at taking the proverbial high road and responding intentionally even in the face of adversity, develop a gratitude practice.

Telling someone (colleagues included!) that you feel grateful for them may also increase their willingness to help you—likely because they feel valued. Francesca Gino and Adam Grant completed a series of studies on this. In one, participants who had edited a student’s cover letter received either a message from the student acknowledging they’d received their feedback or a grateful note expressing thanks and appreciation. When the students asked the participants for help again, those who were thanked were twice as likely to say yes than those who hadn’t been thanked. Put another way? When someone wasn’t thanked, the chances of them helping again in the future were cut in half.

Now, You!

When’s the last time you remember receiving (and showing) gratitude? At work or otherwise? Feeling gratitude makes us happier about our lives and more emotionally (and physically) healthy and resilient.

Some questions to think through:

How did you last express your gratitude?
Was it more general, or specific to a person?
What was their reaction?
How did it leave you feeling?

Next, debrief:

What do you remember about this instance?
What made the impact?
How did the other person receive it?
How did you feel showing it?

My favorite equation for expressing gratitude is E + A + I, or EVENT + ACTION + IMPACT. Here’s what happened, here’s what you did, and here’s how it made me feel. It’s important to catch the people you appreciate winning—in ways both big and small.

Gratitude practice can also be structured in a (bigger than November!) Day/Week/Month format. Day-to-day, notice and write down one thing you’re grateful for. It’s helpful to pair this with an already-formed habit, such as bedtime journaling or your morning scroll through the Club Limitless App.

Weekly, try end-of-week gratitude texts or emails for those who made your days great, and monthly, throw in a gratitude section on the agenda of a monthly meeting, or make it a point to write a handwritten thank-you note to someone. There’s power in putting pen to paper.

In the spirit of practicing what I preach: Limitless Minds community—past, present, and future!—I’m so grateful for you. That’s always true, but this week I’m putting it in writing.

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