There are some nascent customs born from this imposing new reality that we should probably hang on to once we return to previously ingrained behaviors and habits.
Hand-washing—as natural as breathing to doctors—is certainly one of them. Thanks to Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis, who hypothesized in the mid-19th century that the unusual high maternal mortality rate at the Viennese hospital where he worked was due to doctors unwittingly transporting germs from autopsies of the deceased straight to examinations of the living, our physicians have long modeled a practice we’d be wise to adopt for ourselves—stat!
The proper way of sneezing and coughing—into tissues or elbows—is another habit that wouldn’t kill us to learn from our current predicament.
But there’s one habit in particular that many of us have engaged in, that, while not necessarily life-saving, would certainly be life-enhancing, both for ourselves and others.
Every evening at 7 PM on the dot, people spontaneously stop in the middle of the street, lean out of windows and head to their balconies all around New York City, to initiate a groundswell of cheering, clapping and whistling that builds up to a crescendo of appreciation for the thousands of healthcare workers who risk their lives every day to heal and save the rest of us.
It’s a beautiful gesture most of us have joined in and one it would make sense to habitualize—the expression of unmitigated gratitude. Research from the Wharton School and Harvard has shown that people who experience gratitude from their leaders and colleagues are more productive and perform better on a variety of tasks, but the benefits don’t stop there.
In my workshops on emotion regulation strategies, I often conduct a gratitude exercise that has participants focus intensely on three things they’re grateful for. Whether those are of a personal nature, such as the gift of family and good friends, or one’s professional accomplishments, like a promotion or the successful completion of a difficult project, the key is that the gratitude is genuinely felt and considered for more than a fleeting moment.
Reliably, each participant in the exercise reports feelings of peace, calmness, joy, love even. Mind you, these are typically no-nonsense executives and organizational leaders, who’d most likely regard my teachings with skepticism or an attitude of “that wouldn’t work for me”, if they didn’t experience these powerful sensations themselves right there in the workshop.
The emotions that often interfere with our success in interpersonal relationships and the attainment of our most important objectives are anger and fear.
It’s impossible to feel anger and fear when we experience and express gratitude.
So, whether we incite it in ourselves, or we share it generously with others, the daily practice of gratitude is a habit worth continuing.