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How Giving and Gratitude Can Improve Your Performance

A Q&A with Robert Emmons, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Well-Being by Giving Thanks.

Thrive Global: Why is giving such an underrated quality in the workplace?

Robert Emmons: By helping others, we help ourselves. By giving ourselves away, we expand ourselves. Grasping and holding on to what we have diminishes us; giving magnifies and expands us. Plus, we’re more likely to be helped downstream ourselves if we’ve extended aid first. So it makes sense long-term, even if there may be some short-term costs. Additionally, everyone benefits from a culture of kindness and positivity, especially when it’s fueled by gratitude. Gratitude is the fuel that keeps us going and growing each day. Without gratitude, we’d be in relational ruin. Our relationships would sputter and conk out.

TG: If you work in an office where the culture doesn’t value giving and gratitude, what could you do to move things in a more positive, generous direction?

RE: Culture needs to be created; otherwise the default will take over. Be the change you want to see. I know that sounds cliche, but it works! Look for opportunities, large and small, to notice the good, take in the good, and give back the good. Find someone who’s behind the scenes, maybe rarely noticed, and express gratitude for who they are and what they’re doing. I call this the “2 minute gratitude miracle.” It’s very powerful and it spreads seeds of gratitude. Speaking words of thanks is linguistic medicine that heals both the speaker and the listener. But don’t be obsessively preoccupied with other people’s levels of gratitude. That can be deadly. The grateful receive without forgetting and give without remembering.


TG: How big or small does an act of giving need to be to make a difference in your well-being and the well-being of those around you?

RE: The grateful and giving mind reaps massive advantages in life. Gratitude enhances performance in every domain that’s been examined—psychological, relational, emotional, physical. Health and wellness result from the systematic practice of grateful living. Its reach is so far and so wide—you really cannot over play the hand of gratitude, and this is why it’s been referred to as the ultimate performance-enhancing substance. And it’s not simply that gratitude brings more happiness or better health. It’s much more than that. It literally breathes new life into us. It recharges, it rejuvenates. One man in his 90s said that gratitude “keeps you young.” It does not need to be a massive act. The important thing is that it becomes a regular habit. Frequency is more important than intensity.

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