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Melissa Miller of Gratitude Investors: “Social interaction”

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. Consider the alternative ways you can find an outlet for social interaction. Could you meet a […]

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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. Consider the alternative ways you can find an outlet for social interaction. Could you meet a neighbor in the back yard for a drink or Facetime with your college friends?


Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingMelissa Miller.

Melissa Miller is the owner of Gratitude Investors, a business focused on increasing emotional wealth for individuals and companies through gratitude-based appreciation programs. They use science-based research and positive psychology to increase employee retention, productivity and performance for leaders and corporations. Melissa’s educational background makes her uniquely qualified to work with companies that want to take their recognition programs to the next level and attract top talent. Melissa holds B.A. degrees in Economics and Psychology from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Central Kentucky on a family farm that has been passed down for generations. I have a big extended family that went to Mass every Sunday followed by lunch at my grandparents’ house. That home was filled with tons of practical jokes, teasing and laughter. We loved sports of all kinds and a card game called Spoons. If you have ever played Spoons, and experienced the mayhem that can result, you can envision exactly how those family gatherings fueled my competitive nature.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

When I was born, my paternal grandmother was young and energetic in her mid-forties. She fostered my love of houses, design and books. I still remember when I was five and Grandmama took me to get my first library card. We went every week to the library and both of us got a huge stack of books to bring home and read side by side. One thing I didn’t realize at the time that I was learning from her was an entrepreneurial mindset. She was a woman in a small southern town who started her own businesses and received two patents. Even though she believed a woman’s name should be in the paper only twice in her life — her marriage and her death — she didn’t live “small”. My inspiration to look at things creatively, along with my entrepreneurial spirit, came from her.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My best friend, Tammy Johnson, has provided continuous inspiration for over thirty years. She has always encouraged and supported me through every adventure and stage, both personally and professionally, in my life. Many times, I think she believed in me more than I believed in myself. To have someone who offers such unwavering support is priceless. When I was facing a change or something that scared me, and I was hesitant to pull the trigger, she would laugh and say, “Worst case scenario, you can live in my basement.” Everyone needs someone who supports them and will offer up their basement if needed.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

The devil is in the details. And my geography skills are abysmal. Both of these statements are true. One winter, I was booking a private plane for my employer to fly to the Caribbean. I called, 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 get clarification that the Caribbean is actually in the Mountain Time Zone, they explained the plane was booked for South Dakota. There is apparently a shared name between a town in South Dakota and the islands. Who knew? I almost got on my knees at that point to thank the heavens I prevented 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.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

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 changed her 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.” 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 — I’m not listening to you. That is incredibly freeing to let go of other people’s expectations and judgment. It’s a call to action for me. I am not going to 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.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Almost as soon as I read, “It was about no longer being the kind of person who takes what she can get, and finally becoming the kind of person who creates exactly what she wants.”, something stirred inside me. For much of my life I found creative ways to work with what I could afford or settle for. However, this quote spoke to going for something bigger. It absolutely resonated with me to change how I viewed choices in life — from buying a car to relationships or to starting a business. I don’t have to settle. For anything. I can set my sights on exactly what I want and then go after it. I love this quote so much I have it on my phone screen and look at it every day as a reminder. The message lit a fire in me to pursue, with passion, what I want in life.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We have created gratitude-based appreciation programs for the workplace. Many companies have outdated recognition programs that don’t spur full employee engagement . We use science-based research and positive psychology to increase employee retention, productivity and performance for leaders and corporations. A Gallup poll in 2012 found that 87% of employees in the world are disengaged. More than 50% of employees intend to search for a new job because they feel underappreciated and undervalued. We want to change that. As we like to say, we are experts in happiness dividends. Our program creates happier employees and an optimum place to work, whether that is in person or remotely.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Exercise: Moving your body does so much for all areas of wellness. It creates endorphins in your brain that trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Exercise also produces other brain chemicals that are associated with feelings of happiness, less stress and feeling more confidence. Exercise sets you up with a great foundation for the day. You don’t have to attend an intense CrossFit session to get the benefits. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise can do the trick.
  • Sleep: We all know how we feel after staying up all night watching Netflix. It goes beyond feeling groggy or slogging through the next day. Studies show sleep and mental health are deeply intertwined. Our brains need restorative sleep to foster cognitive skills and process the day’s stimuli. Poor sleep is linked to anxiety and depression. Make sure you allow yourself time to recharge.
  • 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. Consider the alternative ways you can find an outlet for social interaction. Could you meet a neighbor in the back yard for a drink or Facetime with your college friends?

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I may have a non-traditional way of meditating, but I have found a practice that works for me. I love to get up in the morning, go to the gym, come home while it’s still dark out and meditate. My method of meditation is not clearing my mind but actually filling it with positive affirmations. I set the timer for fifteen minutes and mentally prepare myself for the day. I can definitely feel a decrease in my energy and attitude on the days I skip meditation. It has become as important as working out to my well-being for the day.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Move your body every day. 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 big physical changes in my body, 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. That carries over into all my facets of my life.
  • Eat well. This doesn’t mean you need to feel hungry all the time or only eat salads. Find what works for your body and do the best you can to follow that every day. Does dairy make you feel sluggish? Eliminate it. Notice you are eating too much sugar? Try to cut back. It’s not about losing weight, but about your body feeling nourished and energized. If you find this difficult to sustain, you can use apps to help track your food choices or enlist an accountability partner.
  • Build your community. An accountability partner, or group, cannot be underestimated to help you reach your goals. Some people are internally motivated to eat well and take care of their bodies. Others do best with external motivation by committing to others to hit goals. Your tribe motivates you to consistently show up, try something new and offer encouragement. This has been a huge part of my workouts. People differ in what drives them, but for me being accountable to external sources is a huge motivating factor.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

When I am at my best with healthy eating, it is because I take the time to plan ahead. For so many of us, the difficult part is having something healthy to choose from when hunger strikes. I love to meal prep for the upcoming week. This ensures I have the right food on hand and ready to go. It’s also a stress eliminator for the weeknight dinners when everyone is worn down after a long day. You can even incorporate some social time into the food prep by doing it with family or friends. Once you make planning ahead a daily habit, the healthy eating part is much simpler.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Practice 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)
  2. Make time for meditation. Meditation has many benefits such as stress reduction and controlling anxiety. Mental and physical stress can create increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our bodies. One study found after eight weeks of practicing meditation, the inflammation response caused by stress was reduced (Rosenkranz, 2013).
  3. Get social. 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 emotion regulation skills (Dr. Emma Seppala, 2014). Make time for social connection.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Yes — I’m a smiler! Wearing masks during this pandemic has been difficult because I’m so accustomed to using my smile to convey my emotions, or engagement, to others. Now I have to really focus on smiling with my eyes (which I’m pretty sure is leading to more crows’ feet) to compensate. When I catch my shoulders feeling tight, or my brow is furrowed, I will smile, and my body almost instantly releases the tension. Smiling “fakes” my body out. When I smile, I am conveying to my body that I feel good and things are going well. Smiles actually trigger a release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which boost our mood.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Meditate. I’ve described how my method of meditation sets me on a great path for the day by dedicating time to improve self-awareness and reflection. Meditating creates an opportunity to calm our responses and open our mindsets.
  • Volunteer. Social contributions provide a way to see that we are all in this world together. By doing something for others, we gain a sense of community and common purpose.
  • Practice gratitude. A grateful mindset is open to giving and receiving throughout the day. We are more likely to see the events and people around us in a connected, positive way.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

I think everyone has moments where they stop in their tracks and admire the stunning moments that nature gives us. The fog lifting off the river. The perfect shade of pink in a sunset. The sound of the ocean as it meets the beach. Nature connects to something in each of us. Personally, it reminds me that there is so much to stop and be thankful for in the world.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We spend one-third of our lives working. Old models of thinking may be that it is unprofessional to bring things like gratitude or compassion into the workplace. However, studies show that 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 from the hiring process up until retirement.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

This hypothetical question gets asked many times at dinner parties or over coffee with friends. Oprah has consistently been my answer for years. I grew up watching The Oprah Winfrey Show almost every day. Oprah had such an impact on our culture and exposure to new ideas. Just a brief mention by her of a book or product could send sales skyrocketing. After her show ended, her absence in our family rooms each day at four o’clock left a void in this country that no one else has filled. I would love the opportunity to sit down with someone who is entirely self-made and is such an icon for our time.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We would love for you to stop by www.gratitudeinvestors.com 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 www.linkedin.com/company/gratitude-investors. You can also find daily inspiration on all things related to gratitude @180degreesgratitude on Instagram.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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