Work-Life Integration//

The Thrive Guide to Creating a Gratitude-focused Workplace

When we strengthen our gratitude muscle at work, everyone benefits.

Illustration by Julia Yoon for Thrive Global
Illustration by Julia Yoon for Thrive Global

Be honest: When was the last time you expressed thanks for something or someone at work? While showing appreciation may not be a priority in your busy, time-strapped days, the truth is that gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we have access to in the workplace. When we embrace and practice gratitude regularly, it has the power to measurably improve our overall happiness and well-being all while benefiting those on the receiving end.

Numerous studies have documented the perks. Research shows that an attitude of gratitude can lead to improved physical health, make you more optimistic and less prone to negative emotions, and even help you sleep better and avoid the type of exhaustion that leads to burnout. What’s more, showing thanks to others can strengthen your bonds and help you build new friendships at work.

But here’s the best part: In addition to the boost we get, gratitude can also bring out the full potential in those around us. In one study, employees who were thanked more often had better sleep, fewer headaches, and healthier eating habits — all because their work satisfaction spiked. And the nature of gratitude is that it leads to a pay-it-forward mentality: When team members feel appreciated, they’re more invested in helping others feel the same. No wonder gratitude is linked with being a better “organizational citizen” — meaning workers go above and beyond their job descriptions to do things like mentor junior staffers or deliver exceptional customer service. 

Given the incredible superpowers of gratitude in the workplace, we should all make an effort to bring more of it into our day to day. So how do we begin? According to Dr. Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a leading researcher in positive psychology, practicing gratitude is two-pronged: First you appreciate what’s good about your life or your work situation, which requires self-reflection. Then you acknowledge who — outside of yourself — contributes to that goodness, and let them know you’re thankful. To help you cultivate the habit, I’m sharing my six go-to tips for making gratitude a priority — each and every day. 

Illustration by Julia Yoon for Thrive Global

Be spontaneous.
In this busy world, we often forget the power of a simple but heartfelt “thank you” or “I appreciate what you did for me; it meant a lot.” But it takes as little as 30 seconds to point out to someone how they impacted you in some way — big or small. I keep note cards in my desk drawer, so when a colleague does something that I appreciate, I can take a couple of minutes to write a note letting them know what they did and how it made me feel. Then — importantly — I share it with them.

Make it personal.
Often, our modern ways of communicating — via our devices — don’t lend themselves to a heartfelt expression of gratitude. Case in point: Hitting “reply all” on a 16-message email thread to say “thanks for that” just doesn’t come across as sincere or warm. Instead, take a moment — offline, if possible — to say, “Hey, that thing you did really impacted me, and I want you to know how much I appreciate you.”

Keep a journal.
It doesn’t matter whether you use a notebook or your phone, but one of the best ways to flex your gratitude muscles is to turn it into a writing ritual. Toward the end of each day, I jot down five things or people I am grateful for that impacted my day. Some days, the list is a quick, breezy exercise; other days, it’s longer and more detailed. Try not to judge what you write; the important thing is to do it.

Go inward.
Thanks doesn’t always have to be aimed at someone else. One study found that when people appreciated their own contributions and even their little victories in the workplace, both their mood and motivation improved. So in addition to your to-do list, try keeping a self-gratitude list. And in those moments when your energy is low or you feel discouraged, skimming it may give you just the boost you need.

Find gratitude in challenging times.
It’s easy to be thankful when things are going well. But it’s important to cultivate appreciation for the experiences that also teach us something, even when those things feel harder to be grateful for. For instance, if a boss delivered a difficult piece of feedback, perhaps you can be grateful for the opportunity to grow from it. Or if a work event didn’t go as planned, maybe you can thank yourself for handling the situation with grace.

Keep looking for different moments of appreciation.
In my own gratitude journal, I try not to repeat the things I write down — for at least a two-week period. This forces me to see the good in many situations or experiences that may otherwise go unnoticed in the day to day. And when it comes to the workplace, it allows me to appreciate the many different actions, attributes, and behaviors that team members bring to the table, each and every day. 

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