The Benefits of Being Grateful and Overcoming Difficulties With Expressing Thanks
Having manners and saying ‘thank you’ was ingrained in most of us as children. It’s the polite and courteous thing to do, right? But how often do we really feel grateful, deep in our hearts, and express it?
The emotion of gratitude is felt when we become aware of a positive benefit that has come our way, but we didn’t necessarily earn or deserve it. It’s a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.
Gratitude is a selfless act. It is done unconditionally, to show to people that they are appreciated. For example, if someone is sad and you write them a note of appreciation, you are likely not asking for something in return for this person; instead, you are reminding them of their value, and expressing gratitude for their existence. At the moment, you are not waiting for a ‘return note’ from this person.
Even when we do not expect a return, sometimes they happen. Gratitude can be contagious, in a good way. In the previous example, maybe when you are down, this person will write you a note too.
According to the latest research in positive psychology, opening ourselves up to truly experience the feeling of gratitude, and intentionally express our thankfulness to other people, has some amazing benefits in all areas of wellness.
7 Benefits of Having a Gratitude Attitude
- 1. Improves mood
- 2. Improves physiological health, by way of heart rhythms and sleep patterns
- 3. Reduces physical symptoms, such as headaches and colds
- 4. Increases cognitive functioning, including memory
- 5. Increases alertness, determination and energy
- 6. Provides a greater sense of being connected to others
- 7. Tends to motivate others to express gratitude, thus starting a virtuous cycle
So, it might be nothing new to hear that expressing gratitude to others can have positive effects on our mood and mental wellbeing, but did you know that it also boosts your immune system?
Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurochemical that has a calming, mood-regulating and anti-anxiety effect. During gratitude practice, our brains increase the production of serotonin, thereby improving our immune systems.
To add to this, the hypothalamus, or the part of our brain that regulates a number of our bodily functions including your appetite, sleep, temperature, metabolism, and growth, actually activates when we feel gratitude. So, we actually can’t function without gratitude!
Difficulties with Expressing Gratitude
Not everyone finds it easy to express gratitude. But why?
Some animals actually have the capacity to express gratitude, which is thankfulness in its most simplistic form. Humans, on the other hand, with their complex societal norms, imposed expectations and emotions such as embarrassment, fear-driven obligation and guilt remove the simplicity that expressing gratitude should have. This causes grateful behaviours to become (or be perceived as) difficult to develop naturally.
To overcome this, start by using a written expression of gratitude, like a journal or a letter. This approach can improve your perception of the person your are grateful to, and feel a greater sense of trust and strength in your relationship with that person. Then, when you feel comfortable, try sending the letter, or verbalising what you wrote down.
The more you practice gratitude expression, the more natural it will feel!
3 Simple Ways to Personally Cultivate Gratitude
- 1. Think about or write down a list of all the things you were grateful for during the day, just as you retire to bed. This will lead to better sleep patterns which are often disturbed when going to bed whilst your brain is still mulling over a problem or issue from the day. When your last thoughts are those of gratitude and appreciation, your thoughts and memories are positive, your mind is calmer and able to enter into a deeper sleep.
- 2. Try to notice and express appreciation or thanks as much as possible. That is, don’t just wait until the end of the day to review everything you were thankful for – try to also catch things for which you are grateful sooner and more immediately, and express thanks (even if only acknowledging to yourself) in the moment.
- 3. Gratitude is also about trying to refocus on things that are going well when you are feeling negative and acutely aware of what is not going well, i.e. count your blessings instead. You can even be thankful for the lesson the negative situation presented you, even if only to identify your specific capacities for improving the situation.
The Importance of Gratitude Practice at Work
While expressing thanks to work colleagues can feel awkward for some, learning how to show appreciation contributes to the kind of environment where we actually want to come to work, and don’t just feel like a ‘cog in a machine’. Building a culture of gratitude and appreciation can transform our work lives, leading to deeper connections to those we work with and to the work we’re doing, and ultimately making us happier, more fulfilled and less stressed at work, with flow-on effects to life at home.
It is important to remember when expressing gratitude in the workplace that we are concise, sincere and consistent in our practice, and focus on more than just job tasks done well; consider the person you are thanking as a whole person that exists as more than their role.
3 Simple Ways to Cultivate a Work Gratitude Attitude
- 1. Handwrite notes to one or two work colleagues each day.
Hand-delivered, brief notes on real stationery sealed in an envelope with written expressions of gratitude for a specific task or effort are something another person can keep forever, which creates a greater depth in meaning.
- 2. Call out what is done or handled well when things go wrong.
Rather than focusing on what caused a deadline to be missed, a project to fail or a mistake to be made, send a group email or speak up in the next team meeting to point out the efforts and contributions made by a colleague, despite the outcome.
- 3. Suggest/create a ‘Fist Bumps’ wall.
This is a publicly visible place in the workplace (that can be done digitally too) where anyone at work can call out a colleague’s demonstration of hard work, teamwork, and effort by noting it on a post-it and sticking it up on the wall. The ‘Fist Bumps’ wall encourages employees to pay attention to what goes on around them, inviting things to be openly and truly appreciated by others.
Gratitude is an undervalued and underused emotion that is immediately rewarding and enhances all areas of wellness, over and above simply being kind and polite. Cultivating a gratitude attitude just takes regular practice, but before you know it, you’ll start to see the benefits for yourself, and spread to those around you.
If you need any help with increasing gratitude expression in your workplace, or would like to know more about our parent support programs, then please give us a call today on 0402 294 953. We’d love the opportunity to help!