Melissa Miller of Gratitude Investors: “Create habits”

Create habits: Make taking care of yourself a habit. It’s easy to get swept up in your day and then realize at bedtime you never found time to take care of your health. Research has shown one key to making a habit stick is adding it to your morning routine. Start your day with good […]

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Create habits: Make taking care of yourself a habit. It’s easy to get swept up in your day and then realize at bedtime you never found time to take care of your health. Research has shown one key to making a habit stick is adding it to your morning routine. Start your day with good habits to prepare for success. Lay your workout clothes out the night before. Put your notepad beside your bed to write down three things you’re grateful for. Have a healthy breakfast waiting for you in the refrigerator. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Miller.

Melissa Miller is the owner of Gratitude Investors, a company focused on increasing employee retention, engagement, and performance for individuals and companies through the implementation of gratitude and appreciation programs. Melissa’s educational background makes her uniquely qualified to work with businesses looking to take their recognition programs to the next level. With B.A. degrees in Economics and Psychology from Centre College, Melissa believes investing in employees creates the largest returns.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I like people. I’ve formed friendships in the shoe department while shopping. The team at my favorite Atlanta hotel and I are on a first-name basis. I am fun to sit next to on a plane (however, if you fall in the camp of immediately putting your earbuds in, I’ll give you space). It boils down to I am interested in people’s life stories. A few years ago, two of my aunts and I created The 180° Letters, a letter-writing kit to make sharing stories and gratitude simple. I loved working in appreciation and was drawn to the business sector from my professional life and education. Because I love people and connection, helping companies foster happy, fulfilled individuals is my company’s mission.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I learned that when you are highly motivated you can push out of comfort zones and have great success. At the beginning of my career, I jokingly like to think I was similar to Olivia Pope, from Scandal, without the murder and intrigue. Essentially, I “handled” things. I took situations that called for creative solutions and made them happen. I found the hard-to-get items, pulled off the surprises, and made the impossible a reality. And although every day presented a challenge, I was comfortable there. When I started my business, it was intimidating to step into all the new roles I needed to master. I used gratitude to lessen my fears and forced myself to try new things. As an entrepreneur, I wear many different hats, and it falls on me to push out of my comfort zones to do jobs I’ve never done before. Building up the ability to take on a daunting situation, get creative, and handle it is essential. Great success never comes from comfort zones.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

The devil is in the details. And my geography skills are abysmal. I know both of these statements to be true. One winter, I was booking a private plane for a client to fly to islands south of Florida. I called the aviation company, gave the name of the destination town, and made the reservation. The day before the trip, I was going over the itinerary and noticed a Mountain Time Zone reference. When I called the company to clarify that the Caribbean is actually in the Mountain Time Zone, they explained the plane was scheduled to fly to South Dakota. There is apparently a shared name between a town in South Dakota and the islands. Who knew? I could not stop imagining the train wreck of my life if I hadn’t caught that mistake. I could envision this group of people deplaning in shorts, flip flops, and cover-ups into fifteen feet of snow. Now when I get swept up in moving quickly, I try to remember to slow down and go back over the details.

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?

You know the theory that you are the sum of the five people closest to you. If you want to level up, surround yourself with people who do the same. I am incredibly blessed to have a diverse group of friends that keeps pushing me to pursue my dreams. They open doors for me, cheer me on, and show me how to achieve more. Cards and funny t-shirts have appeared in my mailbox to encourage me. They get on the phone with me and talk business for hours. One of my friends is incredibly successful professionally. Not only did his success show me it is possible to build something from scratch with hard work, his belief that I was capable of doing great things gave me courage when I was starting out. I am grateful to have strong connections with a wonderful circle of friends that believes in my vision for Gratitude Investors and pushes me to attain it.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Years ago, my best friend was in a job that extraordinarily stressful and draining. As soon as she opened her eyes on Sunday morning and knew the workweek was right around the corner, her entire day became one of dread. Workers, now more than ever, may have symptoms like this pointing to burnout. In 2020, 75% of workers surveyed by FlexJobs reported experiencing burnout. If you feel like a clock is ticking over your head on Sunday, you need to examine what is causing the stress. Is your work/life balance nonexistent? Are you taking your earned time off? Can you speak with your manager to address concerns and see if there is room for adjustment? Are you delegating and outsourcing to move things off your plate? Does your employer provide the opportunities you need to achieve long-term goals and advancement? Find what work activities fuel you and work in your strengths to keep your energy levels up. Do regular check-ins with yourself to see how you are feeling to prevent the road to burnout.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

As the leader, your team looks to you for inspiration and direction. Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools you can employ to create a great work environment. Even if you haven’t considered using appreciation in the workplace, it’s never too late to try a new approach or hit the reset button. Dare to try something different. Studies show the number one driver for employee engagement is appreciation. Yet, Gallup found 65% of employees say they were not recognized in the workplace last year. What does gratitude look like in the workplace? Leaders provide frequent feedback for employees to align work with personal and company goals. Connections are formed on both personal and professional levels. Managers show they value people’s opinions by asking for feedback and input. Using gratitude helps leaders bridge the gap between their management methods and what their employees crave.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Focus on gratitude: Numerous studies have shown the emotional and physical benefits of daily gratitude. It reduces stress, improves sleep, increases happiness, boosts mental resilience, and lowers rates of depression. Journaling for as little as five minutes a day regarding what we are grateful for can increase our long-term happiness by over 10% (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). How do you practice gratitude? A great study by researchers at Duke University had participants write down three things they were grateful for, insert themselves into the situation, and describe the emotion they felt. That’s it. Researchers found that people who did this activity improved their mood more significantly than if they had taken Prozac. There’s an amazing neurological benefit of practicing gratitude as well. Neuroscientists have found that our brains are actually hardwired such that we cannot feel gratitude and fear at the same time. It’s physically impossible. Based on the research, you can develop a habit of practicing gratitude, using the Duke study as a blueprint, to eliminate toxic emotions.
  2. Get happier: According to Shawn Achor, an expert on happiness, 90% of long-term happiness is predicted not by our external world but by how our brain processes the world. If we change the lens through which we view the world, we can create a more positive reality. You can increase your happiness level, and mental wellness, in as little as two minutes per day. Choose a method that feels comfortable to you and try it out. Think of one meaningful thing that happened in the last 24 hours and write down every detail you can remember. Journaling is effective because it doubles the memory’s impact on your mind and mood. Consider trying meditation. A study by Dweck in 2007 confirmed meditation creates more happiness in participant’s attitudes. We all know some days are just more challenging than others. In that case, fake it until you make it. Studies show that simply smiling changes your brain chemistry. Smile more and see your happiness levels increase.
  3. Move your body: If you haven’t found a type of workout that you love, keep looking. And once you find it, commit to it. I have made significant physical changes in my body by going to the gym, but the mental benefits I’ve received are more important. I love to work out in the morning, mark it off my list and move on with my day. That commitment has shown me I can do hard things and that I have the perseverance to keep showing up in all facets of my life.
  4. Build connection: People who feel connected to others have reduced levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, and stronger emotional regulation skills (Dr. Emma Seppala, 2014). Nurture your social connections to optimize mental wellness.
  5. Create habits: Make taking care of yourself a habit. It’s easy to get swept up in your day and then realize at bedtime you never found time to take care of your health. Research has shown one key to making a habit stick is adding it to your morning routine. Start your day with good habits to prepare for success. Lay your workout clothes out the night before. Put your notepad beside your bed to write down three things you’re grateful for. Have a healthy breakfast waiting for you in the refrigerator. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Social interaction: Face-to-face socializing reduces depression. It’s restorative for our mental health and a mood booster. Clearly, this has been difficult during the pandemic, and we are all feeling the lack of our normal options for gathering. You may also be missing the water cooler talk with colleagues after retirement. Look for alternative outlets for social interaction. Could you meet a neighbor in the backyard for a drink or Facetime with your college friends? Grab a friend and go for a walk?
  2. Find your purpose: We all need a purpose in our lives. Many people find meaning and value in their careers. When this phase of their lives end, they may struggle to find something else to fill their time and give direction to their lives. How can you create purpose after retirement? Find ways to give back to your community. Consider taking a part-time job that brings you joy. Mentor someone who could use your expertise. Identify and complete a challenge you always wanted to take on but didn’t have the time.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

Social media can bombard us with negativity and create impossible comparisons. We can get into trouble when we mindlessly scroll feeds and believe the filtered lives we are seeing are real. However, if you use social media to intentionally create connection, that can produce a positive result. Shawn Achor’s study found that if we take fifteen minutes to engage actively, instead of passively scroll, it benefits the sender and the recipient. You can like posts, comment about how great his party was, congratulate someone on the promotion or the job they just earned, or celebrate her trip on a private jet. After 15 minutes, participants actually felt rejuvenated and more deeply socially connected. Here’s where another benefit came in. The sender got more comments and likes on their posts as well. The benefits of actively engaging and supporting people went both ways. Social media will be present in your life, so ensure it boosts, rather than harms, your mental health.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I love all of Brene Brown’s books, but my favorite is “Daring Greatly”. I was inspired by her story of how a Theodore Roosevelt quote gave her the courage to be vulnerable and embrace life. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Action brings clarity. Get in the arena and get your face dirty. And if you are going to hurl things from the stands — but play it safe yourself and not take risks — your opinion doesn’t matter to me. It is incredibly empowering to let go of other people’s expectations and judgment. It’s a call to action for me. I will not be the person who sits on the sidelines and allows fear to hold me back. It will either work out, or it won’t, but I’m going to try.

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. 🙂

We spend one-third of our lives working. An outdated model of thinking is it’s unprofessional to bring things like gratitude or compassion into the workplace. However, studies show appreciation and gratitude are key to creating the very type of workplace environments people actually want to work in. One of our most fundamental needs as humans is to feel appreciated. Leaders and companies who understand this principle, and practice gratitude, create productive, engaged employees. I would love to see a corporate mentality where leaders implement this approach in all phases of work life from the hiring process up until retirement.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“I’m grateful but not complacent.” When I first read this quote, I thought what a great way to sum up staying present and going after your dreams at the same time. I think too often being grateful can be misconstrued as being so happy you couldn’t want for anything more. That’s unrealistic. Gratitude helps relieve fear and anxiety in your head. The more I use gratitude, it actually helps me become braver to tackle parts of my life that need improvement. Just because I am grateful for my life, it doesn’t mean I’ve settled or stopped striving. I am thankful every day for many amazing things, but I know even greater ones are coming. It’s why I took a chance and started my business.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

We would love for you to stop by and learn more about our gratitude-based employee appreciation programs. Catch up on daily information regarding gratitude in the workplace on Facebook and Instagram at @Gratitudeinvestor or LinkedIn at You can also find daily inspiration on all things related to gratitude @180degreesgratitude on Instagram.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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