“If a person could do only one thing to increase their health and happiness, expressing gratitude might be it.” (Miller, 2019)
What is Gratitude?
Let us define the term first. Gratitude is defined as “a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier.” (Harvard Medical School, 2019) Others have also added that this is usually in return for a non-monetary item. Dumas, Johnson and Lynch (2002) concluded from their research that Gratitude was one of the most likeable traits in a human.
According to Watkins et al. (2003) the grateful person has four traits:
- they do not feel deprived in life
- they appreciate contribution of others. Weiner (1986) emphasises the importance of attributing the blessings to its sources
- they appreciate the simple things in life
- they should acknowledge the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude
Gratitude is a concept which has been discussed by experts from different fields such as religion and science, but it is one of the most neglected research areas in psychology (Watkins et al., 2003). The main goal of psychology has always been how to reduce misery and depression, until a recent change in focus. This could be one of the main reasons why gratitude as a research area, was neglected.
Can practising gratitude really affect your life?
Miller (2019) claims that “expressing gratitude reduces stress, increases optimism, and changes your brain.” Numerous pieces of research has proven that gratitude has a positive impact on mind and body. It can make for a happier social life, personal life and professional life. Socially, your relationships will become stronger. Also, you will be more content with your personal life. Watkins et al. (2003) suggested that grateful individuals tend to be happy individuals. On a professional level, it can make work relationships stronger, it could aid the effectiveness of employees and it could enhance job satisfaction. Despite there being some research not showing a positive correlation between gratitude and well-being, there is overwhelming research to prove that there is a link e.g. Wong and Brown (2017), Bartlett & DeSteno (2006) and Dickens and DeSteno (2018).
When you practise gratitude i.e. in its simplest form to thank someone for something they did for you, you feel good about yourself, you make the recipient feel good about themselves and as a result that relationship strengthens and then as an added on result the both of you feel even better. Gratitude creates a cycle which keeps on going, increasing the happiness and content that it brings with it. This is why it has been suggested that praise amplifies the satisfaction of benefits.
Is there proof for this claim?
Along with the pieces of research mentioned above, Harvard Medical School (2019) also present a number of pieces of research that has been carried out to prove the positive effect of practising gratitude. Whether that is by keeping a gratitude journal, sending thank you notes or saying thank you, the positive impact was evident. This was the case whether it was an individual activity, personal relationship or a professional relationship. For example, handwriting a simple thank you note to one of your team members for something they did that might have gone unnoticed, will do countless wonders for you and them and as a result your business.
How can we practise gratitude?
There are number of different suggestions by psychologists, researchers and religious scholars. Below, I will list a few.
Acknowledge and express gratitude. Appreciate the smaller things in life and the things we all take for granted. The mere fact that you were able to read this with a pair of eyes, comprehend it with a fully functioning brain, utter your thoughts on it with your mouth and then possibly leave a comment below by typing it with your fingers are blessings that many are deprived from. But you have these blessings. How often do you acknowledge and express gratitude for these? Acknowledge the correct source of these blessings and express your gratitude. This acknowledgement and expression could be in many different forms for example, utter it, write it down.
Did you know? This is one of the aspects covered in our motivation module in our professional development course.
Keep a gratitude journal. On a regular basis write down a certain number of things you are grateful for. Some researchers have argued it should be once or twice a week, but the key is to keep it regular. This solidifies the blessing in your mind and research has proven its success. It has proven to result in healthier eating, reduced materialism and even donating more in charity. Researchers instructed a group of participants to list things they can be grateful for and another group to list the hassles of life and at the end of the studies, the grateful group proved to be happier, more content and satisfied with life.
Say thank you or write a thank you note and deliver it
yourself. This is super simple, but ask yourself, when was the last time you
did this in your personal or professional life? If you lead a team at work and
you expressing your gratitude, it can increase employee job satisfaction and it
can reduce stress at work. As a result, you get a happier and more productive
team. Even thanking your peers at work for “favours” they may have done for you
at work is a form of expressing gratitude. This is above and beyond acknowledging
them for their achievements, but it is valuing them and their actions. And this
strengthens a relationship more so than thanking someone for actually doing something
that is their job anyway. If you run team meetings, allocate 5 minutes of every
other meeting, where members of your team acknowledge and express their
gratitude to another team member for something they did, not an achievement,
but something that may have made their lives easier e.g. covering them while
they were sick, helping out with extra piece of work or buying them coffee! Creating
a grateful culture at work results in a happy team and that leads to a
Bartlett, M.Y., & DeSteno, D. (2006). Gratitude and prosocial behavior: Helping when it costs you. Psychological Science, 17(4), 319-325.
Dickens, L. & DeSteno, D. (2018). The grateful are patient: Heightened daily gratitude is associated with attenuated temporal discounting. Emotion. Retrieved May 21, 2019, from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/52853b8ae4b0a6c35d3f8e9d/t/573b3c64356fb0e611c9ff31/1463499877174/the-grateful-are-patient.pdf. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000176
Dumas, J.E., Johnson, M. and Lynch, A.M. (2002). Likableness, familiarity, and frequency of 844 person-descriptive words. Personality and Individual Differences, 32(3), pp.523–531.
Harvard Medical School (2019). In Praise of Gratitude. [Online]. Harvard Medical School. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/in-praise-of-gratitude [Accessed 25 October 2019].
Miller, K. (2019). 14 Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude According to Science. [Online]. Positive Psychology. Available from: https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-gratitude/ [Accessed 25 October 2019].
Psychology Today (n.d.). Gratitude. [Online]. Psychology Today. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/gratitude [Accessed 25 October 2019].
Watkins, P.C., Woodward, K., Stone, T. and Kolts, R.L. (2003). Gratitude and Happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subject well-being. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 31(5), pp.431–451.
Weiner, B. (1986). An Attributional Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion. An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion, [online] 92, pp.159–190. Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4612-4948-1_6 [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].
Wong, J. & Brown, J. (2017). How gratitude changes you and your brain. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved May 21, 2019, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain