What you Measure Matters. In business, we know, what we measure matters. Most companies and non-profits track and report on what is happening in their organizations. We measure productivity; profit and loss; customer satisfaction. What the leaders pay attention to tends to get results.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Layne Mielke.
Enthusiastic. Insightful. Inspiring. Layne genuinely cares about people. She is a wise soul who has a willingness to help, share knowledge, and problem solve. Her sundry research, consulting, program management, and entrepreneurship experiences allow her to view situations from many different perspectives, helping her serve her clients. She founded TenStone Solutions, LLC, which serves professionals who want to have a greater impact on the people and environment around them.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
I worked at a well-respected consulting firm then my path diverged to an international non-profit organization. Another fork in the road led me down the track of motherhood and community service. The exciting career paths I have taken, coupled with my process (be curious, learn, try and repeat), helped me grow into the person I am now.
One of my last forks in the road was when I co-founded Gratitude Starters® with my brother. Our goal was to help individuals, families, and companies grow their gratitude practice. We wanted people to have fun while building up their habit of looking for the good around them and sharing it. We recently sold the company! Now I help executives and senior leaders solve their problems. I offer them a thought partner (it can be very lonely when leading a company). I help them be intentional about how they communicate and how they create their culture, hopefully, infused with gratitude.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I never knew I would get up in front of a large audience and tell them how desperate I was for a hot shower. After I was home full-time with my kids and my husband was traveling a lot, I was desperate to get a shower without little fingers pulling for my attention. We joined the local YMCA and finally got a hot shower and a few minutes to think. From that experience, I joined their advisory board then the board of trustees. They asked me to give a keynote speech at the annual celebration. I didn’t know how my desperation and vulnerability would lead me to new places, friends, and a rich service experience.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My grandpa always told his kids that they could do anything, “Mind over matter,” I listened to my mom’s story of how she craved to play the lead in her school play. She showed up to each rehearsal and learned her lines and the lead’s lines. The gal who got the part ended up not performing, so my mom was able to play the leading role. She knew that her hard work and unwavering mindset gave her that opportunity and passed that down to me. When I work hard and never give up thinking about the outcome, I can accomplish what I set my mind to do.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
I love reading, so asking to pick one is tricky. I would say that the Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, had a noticeably significant impact on me. “But better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.” This quote is powerful. When I see a person as smart and capable, I feel like they can handle the truth and do what is right for them. I want to see all people as smart and capable.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Besides running my coaching company, I am working on a photography project called Humanity at its Best. Our ultimate goal will be to make a beautiful book that can be used in homes, schools, waiting rooms that show real pictures of people helping and caring for each other. There will be a few enhancements beyond just looking at photos; we will invite readers/viewers to take a more in-depth look and have a richer experience.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Perhaps I will use this chance to send gratitude to my 6th-grade teacher, Mr. Blakeslee.
Mr. Blakeslee expanded how I thought and communicated. He always had fun, quirky challenges; one was figuring out how to get a candy cane from above his desk without touching it? He helped me think outside of the box, and he helped me realize that I could impact the people around me. After one of our lessons, we learned of a school that didn’t have many books. I remarked about starting a book drive for this school. He not only encouraged me, but he also empowered me to take action. He let me organize, publicize and collect books from our entire school to donate to this other school. Then he recognized my effort by personally giving me a gift card to the best Colorado bookstore, the Tattered Cover.
Thank you, Mr. Blakeslee, for being an excellent teacher and person.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Imagine when you were a child, were you taught to say thank you when you received something? Being thankful when you receive something is what many people think gratitude is.
Gratitude is much more than that. It is a potent practice. Gratitude is the recognition that someone/something has made or is making your life easier/better/fuller.
For instance, say your roommate made you dinner. Saying “thank you” is a great start; you acknowledge what your roommate did. However, that is just scratching the surface of what transpired. At that moment, you get to delight that someone made your life easier. Someone cares for you enough to make a meal for you.
Another instance: your grocery store is full of food and supplies. This store, the employees, the suppliers, the truckers, the farmers, and everyone who helps get food and supplies to your store are all working, making your life easier.
Gratitude allows you to shift any moment into a gift. Even when life is hard, gratitude can help us balance what is hard with what is working well.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
Our ancestors were always on high alert. They had to assess risk because their lives depended on it. They also were busy with survival, finding food, water, and shelter. Now we live when most of us have these survival elements without thinking too hard about them. We have time, coupled with lots of stimuli that grips our attention and sensationalizes the world around us. Our brains, wired to pay attention to risk, and our attention lured by the screens around us, overloads our brains, and it is hard to turn that off.
Practicing gratitude can help level the uneven balance of negative and overwhelming feelings to show many things are going well and people who are doing good. So that when life does get hard, and we know it will, we are not overwhelmed.
Anyone can learn to be grateful. Just like any skill, you can train, and practice and it will become second nature. If you grew up in a family that did not practice gratitude, no worries: there are ways to learn and practice how to be grateful.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
Before I get into the science of how gratitude can positively impact your life, I would like to ask you to take a moment and think about the place for which you are most grateful. When you think of your “place,” can you immerse yourself in this thought? Can you imagine what you would be hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, or touching? Take a deep breath. When you got yourself into a place of gratitude from imagining your favorite place, you were fully present. Your brain was so focused on finding what you were grateful for; everything else got quiet. That is the power of gratitude. Gratitude helps you quiet your mind and enables you to realize that you can control your mind.
Now for science, it has been shown that gratitude can have positive impacts on your personal, social and professional life. New research is showing just how the brain is affected by practicing gratitude. The article, What Science Reveals About Gratitude’s Impact on the Brain, by Glen Fox and his colleagues, asks how feeling positive emotion can improve bodily functions. Their three significant findings included: “Gratitude can help reduce stress and pain, it can improve health over time, and it can help with depression.” It is incredible to see that science is verifying what philosophers and religions have extolled for centuries.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Gratitude can help our mental wellness in so many ways. There was some excellent research done at Indiana University by professors Joshua Brown and Joel Wong. They targeted their research to learn: Can gratitude help people who were already seeking mental health help from their university? The answer was yes, it can. The study recruited nearly 300 adults and most college students before they started their first counseling session. They randomly assigned each to a group. The first group was to write one letter of gratitude to a person for three weeks. The second group wrote their thoughts and feelings about a negative experience. The third group did not write anything.
Their findings showed that the participants who wrote gratitude letters noted significantly better mental health four and twelve weeks after the writing exercises than either of the other groups.
Anecdotally, I can tell you when I am in traffic with my kids in the backseats of the car, hungry, tired, and ready to be home. As soon as I shift to practicing gratitude, I can change the total energy of the vehicle. Instead of “when are we going to get there?” I switch to how lucky we get a few extra minutes to be together. I shift from, how is there so much traffic, to wow, I am fortunate to live in such a beautiful place, I move from blame to acknowledgment. There are some things that I can’t control, but I can (most of the time) control my mind, and gratitude is my go-to practice.
Gratitude is a way to shift from a meager mindset to an abundance mindset, and when we turn our feelings towards an appreciation for all that is working for us, we have enough. We have enough time, money, and energy. Mentally, the shift can make a substantial difference in how you show up in the world and how people treat you.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
1.) Hindsight is 20/20. When I am in the middle of a hard time, it can be hard to see what good can come out of the situation. Once the problem is over, I can connect the dots and see how going through the difficult time taught me something; it is easier to see the good that comes after the challenge is over.
I have many stories of when my life was hard, and I wasn’t sure how to get through it. One example was the Christmas after my dad passed away. I was working for a consulting firm and was in Michigan for a business trip. There was an epic snowstorm in Colorado, which canceled my flight home. The thought of being away from my family for Christmas was devastating. I desperately wanted to be with my mom and brothers.
People in my company were trying to help me get home. My clients invited me to spend Christmas with them. Even though I was struggling, I had so many people working on my behalf to get me home with my family. I worked for a great company, cared for by generous clients, and surrounded by people’s kindness and love. Now, I can look back, and I am grateful for that snowstorm which allowed me to be full of love because I had so many people caring for me during a difficult time.
When we reflect on times that we experienced struggle and came through it and were better for it, it helps us create a pattern for how we get through hard things in the future.
2.) What you Measure Matters. In business, we know, what we measure matters. Most companies and non-profits track and report on what is happening in their organizations. We measure productivity; profit and loss; customer satisfaction. What the leaders pay attention to tends to get results.
Now that we uncovered some of the reasons how gratitude helps us individually, I want to share how gratitude can help your organization and how to measure it. According to Ryan Pendell, author of 7 Gallup Workplace Insights: What We Learned in 2020, “When employers support well-being, they support their employees’ engagement, performance, and productivity as well.” When gratitude directly correlates with better well-being. It makes sense for leaders to weave it into the fabric of their business. Besides helping the company, increasing employees’ positive experiences at work, is worthwhile in itself.
How can you measure this? There are many ways, but I will give you three to start immediately:
- Measure how many times you give positive feedback to individuals and teams. How do your employees, volunteers, family members make your day better? Your job easier? Let them know.
- Measure how many times you give public feedback about the work your team is accomplishing.
- Measure how many team members give kudos to the people around them.
Pick one of these and measure how well you do. Then increase your number each day for a week and see how you feel and how the people around you respond.
3.) Leaders are Grateful for Problems. Problems are opportunities to improve. When we shift our perspective to being grateful for opportunities to improve, we value and appreciate feedback and struggles because we know, as we address them, we become stronger leaders with better outcomes.
One of my clients was a senior leader for a medium-sized organization. He was so overwhelmed when his employees came to him with problems; he was burning out. After hearing his struggles, we discussed the benefits of his staff coming to him with their issues. He listed that he knew where projects were, what was going on, and how to fix them. He liked being aware of what was going. He shifted he behavior from solving the problems himself to empowering his employees to finds solutions. He became a collaborator. He started to like when his employees brought him problems.
4.) Pointing Fingers. Whether it is in the boardroom or the bedroom, before you share your anger or frustration, first think about how you may have contributed to the problem. Instead of pointing my finger to blame someone else for the difficulty, my mom told me to look at the three fingers pointing back at myself and take responsibility for my contributions to the problem first.
If, after you look at how you have contributed to the conflict and you still want to address it, think about why you are grateful for the other person. What are the other person’s good qualities? What is this person going through? Why is your life better with them in it? Then ask yourself, “What would be a good solution to this problem?” What do you think will happen if you show up to the conversation full of gratitude rather than blame? What might the difference be when you were grateful before you entered this difficult conversation?
Hard conversations become more manageable when we show we are taking some responsibility and recognizing the other person’s positive qualities. Often, we get so frustrated that we forget to take a moment and reflect on what is positive and good, our comments become hostile, and both parties close off to listening and potentially changing.
5.) Find the Good. I had just finished grad school. When we found out that my dad had stage IV cancer, it was a no-brainer; I moved back home to be close with my family. When I arrived home, my dad and I got busy cleaning out my car. He was a car guy. We were listening to the Beach Boys and enjoying each other’s company. We were getting ready to vacuum the backseat when I noticed my dad’s signature blonde hair (well, more silver then) started to rain down on the back seats of my car. I looked at him. He looked at me. I tried to hold it together. I started to crack; the tearsescaped my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. My dad wanted to make me feel better. He looked at the vacuum, and he looked at me, and he started vacuuming his head. Then he said, “It is great to have the right tool at the right time.” We both started laughing!
Even when the world feels like it is slipping away, gratitude can shift your mindset from loss to abundance. There are always reasons to be grateful.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
There are a couple of things that I do. The first only takes a minute and helps my brain rebalance and remember what is right in the world. I call it Five Feet. I try to name all the things that are good within a five-foot radius. Right now, I am sitting on my couch, in my house, with my computer on my lap. I am grateful for my home, my furniture, my fingers for the ability to type, for my mind to come up with ideas, for my lamp, for the electricity, for the people who work hard to get me electricity. What starts as a five-foot perimeter quickly changes to show how many people are working, so I have so many good things in my life, and I can shift the balance from feeling down; to being okay.
The second thing I do is try to be of service. How can I make someone’s day easier or better? Can I hold the door open for someone? Can I smile at someone? Can I make dinner for someone? When we shift our minds to help others, we start to feel better. A grateful mindset moves from feeling low and a sense of lack and deficiency to feeling abundant because you are pleased that you have extra energy to smile, open a door, start a conversation. This service is full of abundance and without expectations.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
The Greater Good Science Center and the Kindness Network are a few resources I like. A couple of books that show how a grateful perspective is fundamental to our well-being include An Owl on Every Post by Senora Babb and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
What if we approached gratitude systemically, looking at the larger picture of where most people spend their time, work, and school? How can we infuse these institutions with gratitude? Next, shifting down to smaller units of families and finally to the individual level:
I would love for every company, organization to start measuring gratitude. I would love large companies and organizations to employ a CGO (Chief Gratitude Officer) who continuously strategizes and executes ways to help their employees, customers, and communities feel valued and appreciated.
I would love for families to focus on teaching kids how to practice gratitude by encouraging all family members to reframe their thoughts and realize all the ways the world is working for them.
Finally, I would love for everyone to participate in the One Minute Marvel (OMM). The One Minute Marvel is when you set a timer for a consistent time every day. When that timer goes off, spend one full minute thinking about the people, places, ideas, processes, thoughts, foods, books, memories, sounds, tastes, smells, sights, and feels that make life better. Bonus points for sharing your gratitude with someone!
If everyone who reads this article will share this article and this practice with a friend or two, perhaps we can create a gratitude movement.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!