We often hear a lot about gratitude as something we should practice that has so many unseen benefits. But do we actually know what gratitude is and how to practice it? Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness” according to Robert Emmons, an American psychologist and leading expert on the practice. Emmons acknowledges that when we practice gratitude “we affirm that there are good things in the world.” Gratitude is one way that people can appreciate where they are right now, paying attention to what they have rather than what they don’t.
Gratitude practices look different for everyone, and there are lots of ways to practice affirmations. For example, keeping a gratitude journal, sharing your affirmations with others, meditating, reflecting on negative situations to remember the good and appreciating our surroundings. Of course, everyone has their own unique way of practicing, but why practice? Can practicing gratitude really improve our lives?
The Personal Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude has been found to be connected to happiness and practicing can help people feel more positive emotions, become more resilient, improve relationships and ultimately improve their health. It’s even been found to produce positive benefits for those who suffer from mental illness.
One study found that those who practiced gratitude by writing down what they’re grateful for had a more positive outlook, were more hopeful about their lives, exercised more and visited their doctor fewer times a year than their peers who didn’t practice gratitude.
How Happiness Affects Your Health
The effects of gratitude that produce happiness can create lasting benefits to our health. Feeling a sense of happiness can benefit your physical health by lowering blood pressure and risk for heart disease which is the number one leading cause of death in the U.S.
Happiness can even help you get a good night's sleep and maintain a healthy weight. One study found that those with emotional vitality (characterized by a sense of enthusiasm and hopefulness, and the ability to handle stressors with emotional balance) have a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Experiencing happiness in our personal lives is something we all strive to do, so why not also at work? Over half of working Americans feel that their work is something that they dread and don’t look forward to. But, when employees are happier, they are:
- More productive
- Are more engaged and committed
- More efficient
- Have more creativity
- More resilient
- Better leaders
- Better at handling conflicts
Organizations that have happy employees are more resilient to setbacks, have less turnover, report fewer mistakes and have lower health care costs. While practicing gratitude is a great way to increase individual happiness, if you want more information about cultivating happiness in the workplace, check out our podcast episode, The Social Determinants of Happiness.
The Benefits of Gratitude in the Workplace
If we start to practice gratitude everywhere we go, why should it stop when we get to work?
How often do we end meetings with our co-workers thanking them for their time? We’re so used to standing up to push in our chairs or hitting ‘leave’ on our meetings that we forget to remind ourselves of the time and expertise our co-workers give us.
Even small moments of gratitude such as saying ‘thank you’ at work can boost employee productivity and overall happiness, all things that are critical to a healthy and efficient workplace.
It turns out that we love receiving gratitude at work, but rarely practice it at work. This might be because gratitude isn’t practiced in their workplace, or doesn't feel authentic. Some employees may even feel like it’s unnecessary since they are simply doing their job and receiving their paycheck is the real thank you.
An important thing to know about gratitude is that it doesn’t have to be fancy. Gratitude can sometimes feel like something that is difficult to practice or something that you need time, tools and creativity for. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Although studies suggest that those who do take the time to write down what they are grateful for reap more benefits in the happiness department, any way you practice gratitude is beneficial to your health.
Don’t forget that practicing gratitude is free. It doesn’t need to happen when expensive candles are lit or when the yoga mat is rolled out. It can happen on a walk, when you’re brushing your teeth or even at work. When gratitude is practiced at work it can create a larger sense of positivity throughout the organization.
How to build gratitude at your own workplace, as an employee and a leader:
Practice every day.
Just like anything else, we get good with practice. The more time put in, the easier it becomes. Science tells us that making gratitude a habit even makes us happier.
Make it specific.
Challenge yourself to go beyond thanking your co-workers at the end of the meeting but thank them for the steps they took to complete a certain task (whether it’s in their job description or not). Take a look at your company values, are there employees who have gone above and beyond to meet or exceed a company value?
Understanding what your co-workers did when they were working on the project can help you understand why saying thanks should be important.
Do recognition right as a leader.
This looks different for every leader but making it a daily exercise that is timely to employees’ work goes a long way. Gratitude can go even further if you’re able to understand what employees need and want and how they appreciate praise and positive feedback. It could be as simple as asking them, how do you prefer to receive praise and acknowledgment? Creating a more structured plan for recognizing employees on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis is another great way to make sure employees feel appreciated.
Don’t forget to celebrate!
Acknowledge the little steps forward your team has taken rather than waiting for a large reason to celebrate.
Practicing gratitude at work starts from the top down.
When leaders normalize saying thank you and recognizing a job well down, it will trickle into the daily practices of employees at every level.
When you normalize practicing gratitude at work, it connects employees and creates a culture where employees appreciate and value each other and are more likely to work well together.
Learn four ways to build or reinforce a healthy and resilient workforce.