Why is this simple concept difficult to express and effectively incorporate into our daily lives? Probably because of its inherent complexity. Robert Emmons PhD, known for his empirical research on gratitude, helps unpack the complexity of the word gratitude: “Gratitude has been conceptualized as an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill and an attitude. It is all these and more.” In other words, gratitude is big, robust and somewhat mysterious.
How so? Unlike other expressions, gratitude is circular in nature, like spirograph art. Received expressions of gratitude can inspire grateful receivers to offer expressions to others and so the circle/spiral goes. The cycle can ebb and flow, make looping turns, or other twists and turns over time. Think continuous “pay it forward.”
While altruism arouses gratitude, the physiological component for both the giver and receiver (the release of endorphins triggering a positive, energizing feeling in the body) is rewarding. Gratitude’s multi-dimensional and non-lineal ways seems to have a bit of a free-wheeling characteristic. I have to think there is some sort of spiritual influence that has embedded this response in human nature.
Because gratitude allows us to recognize our connections to others and acknowledge their roles in our lives, it has been described as “social glue” with the power to strengthen relationships and build trust. And here is where gratitude needs some thoughtful and planful nurturing.
While gratitude is more often found in our personal lives, volunteer and civic activities, there is a huge gap in the workplace. Saying ‘thank you’ is as old as humankind, is important and yet we seldom give it the thought required to make it meaningful in workplace settings. According to a recent Gallup study (June 2022) most companies are falling short on both the way recognition is given and how often. The new report found only 23% of employees strongly agree they get the right amount of recognition for the work they do. This speaks volumes about the unspoken role in the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. The ‘gratitude gap’ is real and effecting our work place.
We all have some ability to express gratitude as people, organizations, and employers. In our often hurried and sometimes chaotic world, expressing gratitude can be overlooked.
If you’re a bit stretched and facing some type of adversity, express gratitude in a simple way:
- A kind smile and thanks to the person who held a door open for you
- A wave to the driver who let you merge into traffic
- A note (email or hand-written) expressing appreciation and acknowledgment of another person’s contributions and/or sacrifices. People may forget the actual words, but they remember the gesture.
Simple acts that acknowledge other people’s value in your life nourish your soul, has the power to bind us all together in a meaningful way and generates that spirograph effect.
Expressing gratitude does not always have to be focused outwardly. Gratitude to one’s self is the ultimate in self-care practice:
- Begin each day by thinking of a few things you’re grateful for. Visualize what’s good in your life to set a positive mood for your day.
- Start a gratitude journal, an excellent self-therapy technique.
- Mindful meditation will help you focus and promote acceptance, forgiveness, and widen your perspective on life to include others.
- Create a gratitude jar — whenever something good happens or you feel thankful for something, write it down on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. Next time you’re feeling down, give the jar a shake and pick out one slip of paper.This can help you recall simple pleasures that you might have otherwise forgotten.
All of these practices take time to develop and internalize, so give yourself space and grace to become happier and more resilient.
Living a life that includes expressing gratitude will add to the quality of your life. Having an attitude of gratitude doesn’t require a financial investment, and it doesn’t take a lot of time, making the emotional return immense:
- Greater physical health. Grateful people often take better care of themselves, exercise more, and sleep better.
- Greater well-being. Gratitude reduces many toxic emotions and stress while effectively increasing happiness and self-esteem. Here are a few ideas to help you with your self-care practices to create greater well-being.
- Greater empathy for others. Grateful people are often more sensitive and empathetic toward other people, promoting greater understanding for a more peaceful, cohesive world.
I’m reflecting on relationships I share with you—new, old, professional, and personal. I’m thankful for all of them and that they include you!
May the meaning we find during this season continue throughout our lives so we can continue to improve humanity.