In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have bad days, nor would we be bogged down by the “daily grind” or recent global events. But ours isn’t a perfect world and we are all humans that have emotions, and for the most part are striving, despite outlying pressures, to be at the top of our game. Sometimes all we need is a little push to get us moving and to help us continue in the right direction. A shift in perspective can remind us that things aren’t so bad but the challenge is switching your mindset on the fly when you are preoccupied with life’s pressures. This is where practicing gratitude comes in!
What does gratitude mean? Coming from the Latin word gratia, it means graciousness, gratefulness or grace, depending on the context. It is quite literally the showing of appreciation for or in return for an act or duty.
An excellent way to start a practice of gratitude is journaling or list-making. Keeping a written account of the things you’re grateful for will help you to count your blessings, so to speak, instead of trying to satisfy every physical and material thing that you think you need. Think about the “good stuff”: your favourite type of coffee on your morning commute, a delicious home-cooked meal, the roof over your head. More often than not, seeing the things that you’re grateful for written down or said in your own voice will do wonders for your mental state. There are many other tools to practice gratitude outside of lists too! If you are spiritual perhaps approaching this via prayer could be an option; or if you are more of a mindfulness practitioner, practicing gratitude-based meditation could be an excellent tool to use as well; whichever method you feel most familiar with to establish a regular outlet. Ultimately the goal is to look for the good in challenges; when you are feeling hesitant at taking on a task, remind yourself of the end result, the greater good, the bigger picture. Say “thank you” out loud and often, reminding you and the person you are thanking that “it” matters. Asking others what they are grateful for can be enlightening and remind you of things to add to your gratitude list. Take a “gratitude walk”; find somewhere picturesque and get some steps in while focusing on your surroundings, maybe even literally stopping to smell the roses if you come upon them! Being able to focus on the things you’re grateful for and stopping to take the time to appreciate them creates a powerful and positive cycle that helps give our minds and bodies the boost we need.
A study performed by two psychologists in 2004, Dr. Robert A. Emmons from the University of California and Dr. Michael E. McCullough from the University of Miami, asked different groups of participants to write down a few sentences every week, focusing on specific topics. After ten weeks, the group who wrote about gratitude seemed more optimistic and had better feelings overall about their lives. Unsurprisingly, they also took part in more exercise and visited doctors less often than those who focused on distress or aggravation. It is proven that gratitude can reduce your blood pressure & heart rate, lower levels of inflammation, and heal from injury faster.
“Gratitude is associated with a personal benefit that was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather because of the good intentions of another person,” a direct quote from Emmons and McCullough’s 2004 study.
Gratitude has also been proven to help people sleep better at night and improve self-esteem. A 2014 study that was published in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology showed that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, a fundamental component for ideal performance. Experiencing gratitude releases a combination of dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins – similar to those released when athletes experience a “runner’s high.” An extremely powerful combination when you consider that dopamine is responsible for feelings of happiness and pleasure, oxytocin can help reduce stress, and endorphins help with pain relief.
Yet another study showed that couples who took time to express love and gratitude to their partners felt more positive and had a higher level of comfort being able to express concerns with their relationship.
Another way of looking at the positive effects gratitude has on our self-esteem is through daily interactions. Think of a time that you’ve tasked your team with a crucial project that has a tight deadline. They put in extra hours at the office, pushing to get that project done before the deadline. When the due date arrives and they present their work to you, your reaction and communication are key. They are likely feeling accomplished, proud and grateful for the skills they’ve acquired to be able to complete this extra task on top of their regular duties. If you take the time to stop and appreciate the amount and quality of work that your team has accomplished and to express your gratitude to them and to genuinely articulate how their work is of value to the overall success of your business, a few things happen: You get a boost (remember the dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins!!!), your team gets an even bigger boost (because who doesn’t love positive feedback?!!), you’ve added to building relationships and corporate culture, and your team will likely work even harder next time. An extremely positive cycle. The sad alternative reaction of missing the opportunity to take the moment in, and not expressing how much their work meant, may leave your team feeling defeated, frustrated, or that they’ve wasted time and resources and that they could have spent their time on something more rewarding.
It is human to sometimes forget to be grateful for the things we have. Life is busy and it is easy to get sucked into the constant loop of trying to fill every need or want, without taking the time to appreciate all of the wondrous things we already have. If we start small but stay consistent and take a short part of our day or week to consciously remind ourselves focus on gratitude for everything we do have, no matter how big or small, it can’t help but become second nature in our lives. We all deserve to feel fulfilled, valued, and seen and this practice helps us partake in and spread these feelings – like little breadcrumbs – wherever we go and with whomever, we share our time.