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How Gratitude Can Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

A Q&A with Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Thrive Global: What does research tell us about the importance of gratitude both at work and at home in our lives?

Robert Emmons: Gratitude is the ultimate performance-enhancing substance. It’s the key to health and wholeness, wellness and fullness. Gratitude works because it heals, energizes and transforms lives (and workplaces). The individual benefits also accrue at a collective level.

Gratitude heals past hurts, current pains, and future anxieties and rescues us from negativity. People who are worn down and worn out feel alert, alive and awake when looking at life through a lens of gratefulness. It’s a way of seeing that alters our gaze.

Gratitude breathes new life into us! Luckily, we are at the dawn of a global gratitude renaissance. There is unprecedented enthusiasm for new scientific information on the science and practice of gratitude. In schools, clinics, health care settings, workplaces and even in the halls of academia, there is an increasing awareness that gratitude is vital for individual and collective flourishing. Better people make better societies.

Every day and in every way, we are finding that gratitude is good medicine. One of my favorite findings is that gratitude improves sleep. Gratitude is tied to better sleep quality, shorter falling asleep latency, longer sleep duration, less need for sleep medicine, and less daytime dysfunction caused by lack of sleep. Given how sleep-deprived we collectively are and how vital sleep is for healthy functioning, this is huge.

TG: What are some simple ways to increase the gratitude in our lives?

RE: Read any one of my books! But here are four others:

  1. Make a list of what you typically take for granted. Then think about these “as granted” rather than “for granted.” Huge difference.

  2. Consider what your life would be like without a desired person/event/circumstance (the “George Bailey effect“).This is known as addition via subtraction. For example, what would my life be like if I didn’t have this job?

  3. Give something away. When we are givers, we reflect more clearly on what it is like to be a receiver. Also, we are grateful for the opportunity to give, knowing that giving brings happiness to the self and others.

  4. Identify non-grateful thoughts—for example, thinking you deserve better circumstances, that other people are better off, that life is boring, that you are entitled to this, that things have not turned out the way you wanted. Practice using the language of thankfulness: Gifts, favor, fortune, fortunate, abundance, surplus, sufficiency, blessed, lucky.

TG: How can you adopt a more gratitude-focused mindset during stressful or challenging times at work?

RE: First, focus on others. Who among your colleagues are you grateful for? Think of a concrete example of someone who went out of their way to help you out when you needed it, but perhaps you did not ask for it or did not expect it. Think in specifics. The truth is in the details. You can also do something to help those who need some assistance. Helpfulness and generosity foster more gratitude because gratitude creates an upward spiral of giving, receiving and repaying. Second, try to surround yourself with others who also practice gratitude, or are optimistic, happy, or at least non-complaining. Emotions are so contagious. Third, be that person others want to hang out with because your gratitude is contagious. Speak about works of gratitude and praise to others, or about a third party. Broadcast your gratitude. Speaking words of thanks and appreciation is linguistic medicine that heals both the speaker and the listener.

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- MARCUS AURELIUS

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