My wife and I are in bed, exhausted, trying to fall asleep, when suddenly…
*clink* *clink* *tink* *ping* *ping* *clink*
The baseboard heaters kicked in with that relentless, metallic ding owners of homes from 50+ years ago know all too well. After a minute or so my wife finally cried out in frustration,
“Ugh! Why is it so loud?!”
Half asleep and half kidding, I responded, “Be nice to the house; she’s keeping us warm.”
For whatever reason, my wife thought it was the cutest thing ever. Her mood relaxed and we went to sleep.
Ever since we ‘thank’ the house on a daily basis. Are we joking? Sure, of course. But even as a joke, each time I say, “Thank you, house,” I feel a little bit better.
And there’s some good science to back that up.
The Science of Gratitude
Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough study gratitude.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, in one study they asked a group to write about things they were grateful that had occurred in the past week, and a second group was asked to write about things they were irritated or frustrated by. A third group was asked to write about events that had affected them, with no indication whether they should be positive or negative.
After 10 weeks, the group who wrote about gratitude felt more optimistic, exercised more, and had fewer visits to the doctor than those who focused on the negative.
Many studies of a similar nature exist and while they don’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship, it seems clear there is a relationship between gratitude and overall happiness.
It works at work, too
Unsurprisingly, gratitude not only makes us feel good, but those in our care as well. Laszlo Bock, the former head of HR at Google, discovered the top reason people quit their company is they don’t feel like their hard work is being acknowledged. It trumps perks, benefits, and even pay: we will stay in a job with slightly worse perks and slightly less pay if we feel valued and seen for our hard work and contributions.
Simply having management express gratitude to their employees and teams on a regular basis increases feelings of wellbeing, stronger relationships with coworkers, and increased job satisfaction. The result? Higher employee retention and more effective, motivated workers.
Three Ways to Implement Gratitude
You don’t need a dedicated holiday or season to practice gratitude. Here are a few things you can start doing for yourself, your family and friends, your colleagues, and even your boss:
1. Schedule it
Put a notification in your calendar for the same time every night to spend 5 minutes saying out-loud a few things you were grateful for that day. This way you never miss an opportunity to boost your mood or reframe a difficult day into a positive experience.
2. Make it public
Express your gratitude on social media by tagging friends, family, or local businesses for their good work, even if it seems small. When others see the positive impact your gratitude has on others, they’ll want to get in on the reciprocal feeling, and everybody wins. Acknowledge colleagues at the weekly meeting for large but especially small things, and don’t forget your boss – they’re people too, and they’ll be better leaders when they feel valued for their work.
3. Connect with people you disagree with
This is a tough one in our increasingly divisive age, especially with politics. Implement tactical gratitude by trying to bridge the gap with older relatives and those who have differing viewpoints.
Seth Godin points out, “If you wanted what they wanted and you believed what they believed, you would do the same thing.”
The problem is, of course, you don’t want what they want or believe what they believe. But connection is not about agreement, and it’s definitely not about changing people’s minds. Connection is about understanding.
Let’s take a particularly divisive issue as an example. Suppose they’re pro-gun and you’re anti-gun. At first it seems impossible to reach any sort of understanding, but let’s take a step back. Ask yourself – or better yet, ask them – why they are pro-gun? I bet you’ll find it’s because they care about the safety and security of their family. Do you also care about the safety and security of your family? Good. Now you can disagree about the tactics we should use to achieve that goal, but with an underpinning of love and connection.
Fundamentally, gratitude is about shifting your perspective from pessimism to optimism. As I’ve written about before, pessimists have a more accurate worldview, but optimists are more successful.
Gratitude, like so many things, is a choice.
- It’s a choice to say, “Thank you for keeping us warm” when your baseboard heaters start clanging in the middle of the night…
- To say, “Thank you for pushing us to do our best work” when your boss has been under pressure to deliver on an important project…
- And even, “Thank you for caring about us” to your disagreeable aunt during the holidays.
Originally published on LinkedIn.com