“He who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness.”
- C. Neil Strait
The month of November has been dubbed the National Month of Gratitude here in the United States and swarms of organizations celebrate this in a myriad of ways. Many non-profits suggest increasing acts of charity to show gratitude. Schools and higher education organizations support a gratitude journaling practice to enhance student and teacher outcomes. Corporations offer employees opportunities to give back to the community and provide employee appreciation offerings. Managers share more positive feedback with direct reports.
In my opinion, the practice of gratitude is a wonderful way to spend a month for reasons such as peace and satisfaction internally and enhanced relationships with others. In fact, I try to practice gratitude at every chance I get in order to create a habit of positive thinking and curtail life worries. When I begin to reflect on what I am thankful for, I instantly find myself shifting my attitude inside and a sense of calm overcomes me. This can be particularly useful in the midst of the chaos of work stress and overload, tensions with family or friends, and general malaise about the world.
We have seen a growing wealth of research on the benefits of acknowledging gratitude and on the mechanisms of how practicing gratitude succeeds in creating positive impact. From the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, we know that the practitioners of gratitude have:
Robert Emmons, a world-renowned expert on the science of gratitude says about his research in his book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier:
“We discovered scientific proof that when people regularly engage in systematic cultivation of gratitude, they experience a variety of measurable benefits: psychological, physical, and interpersonal. The evidence on gratitude contradicts a widely held view that all people have a ‘set-point’ of happiness that cannot be reset by any known means: in some cases, people have reported that gratitude led to transformative life changes. And, even more important, the family, friends, partners, and others that surround them consistently report that people who practice gratitude seem measurably happier and are more pleasant to be around.”
What is the mechanism for the positive results of feeling gratitude? A look at recent neuroscience studies at NIH on the subject tell us that when we feel gratitude our brain does two things: first, we have more activity in the hypothalamus which controls bodily habits such as eating, drinking, and sleeping and influences our stress levels, thus promoting better sleep, nutrition, and decreased depression; and second, we activate dopamine, the “feel good” transmitter which also promotes action and forming habits to repeat, thus activating a positive response again and again.
So our brains are wired to promote positive responses when we practice gratitude, resulting in better relationships, sleep, health, mood, resilience, happiness, and satisfaction at work and school. With consistent thankfulness, we decrease stress, anxiety, depression and are faster at recovering from trauma. And it’s as easy as jotting down a thought or two a day what you are grateful for on paper, telling people in your life why you appreciate them, and/or focusing on the positive in situations throughout your day.
To me the upside is far great than the downside and continuing this practice seems like a “no-brainer.” This month and every month, I’m going to habitually acknowledge my gratitude to see what impacts I can make. Will you try too and let us know how it impacts your work lives?
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
William Arthur Ward