It’s that time of year. The fall harvest holidays are almost upon us. It is a time when we place our attention on who and what makes us thankful.
Are we also aware of the importance of gratitude in our everyday role as leaders?
According to an article in The Harvard Health Newsletter, (Nov. 2011), gratitude comes from the Latin rood, gratia, or grace, graciousness or gratefulness. Recently, the field of positive psychology has studied the impact of gratitude, as it is consistently shown to be associated with happiness.
“Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
In one study, there was a correlation between a manager’s expressions of gratitude and the volume of activity people engaged in. “Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.”
It is also possible to have challenging circumstances in your world and “immunize” yourself from their impact through gratitude.
This is because what we focus on increases. If we focus our thinking on how difficult or awful our situation feels and focus exclusively on that, we are closing off our positive emotions. (They may even be lurking just under the surface). In so doing, our negative focus is projected to others on our team or in our organization. A focus on the negative will create more negativity.
Conversely, by allowing the difficult experiences to be as they are, and not grasping, holding or focusing exclusively on them, we open the door to other possibilities of seeing; both ourselves and others.
We are not advocating a false “happiness,” but rather a focus on gratitude.
This small but significant shift makes a huge difference in how we approach and act towards others.
I have practiced this myself during an especially challenging time, and it has been effective. By re-directing myself towards a focus on what I am grateful for, I activate positive, heartfelt emotions. These in turn help me see the challenges differently, and to interpret them in ways that may afford me or others needed space to grow.
You can strengthen your gratitude muscle by:
- Increasing awareness; make a decision to notice what you are grateful for
- Commit your observations to paper or electronic journal: write down 5 different things each day for which you are grateful. Remember, what you focus on increases!
- Practice thanking others, verbally and in writing to express your gratitude and focus out.
As with any muscle that is exercised, it will strengthen with practice. Gratitude is no different.