During the past 20 years, studies from the fields of sociology, business, medicine, neuroscience, biology and psychology have shown that gratitude has extensive benefits, such as promoting personal well-being and happiness, improving physical and mental health outcomes, and contributing to life-satisfaction and positive relationships. Recent research shows that practicing gratitude can have lasting effects on the brain, helping to overcome depression, anxiety, guilt, and other toxic emotions.
Practicing gratitude motivates positive behaviors that lead to self-improvement, such increasing connectedness and humility. In three different studies, researchers described a mutually reinforcing relationship between humility and gratitude. One explanation is that gratitude is externally focused, and can foster humility -- which is the outcome of focusing less on self -- leading to an increased focus on others. Humility is described by researchers as a character strength, allowing one to have an accurate self-concept, without arrogance, and an appreciation of the strengths and worth of others. Practicing gratitude breeds humility.
Some of the most interesting research substantiates the benefits of gratitude in the workplace. A handful of studies show that when workers feel appreciated by their employers, they themselves are more grateful, and that workplace climate and customer service both improve. Employees perform their jobs more effectively, have less burnout, increased job-satisfaction, and act more good-naturedly and respectfully toward their coworkers. According to one study, grateful employees are higher performers and produce better work outcomes. Gratitude was one predictor of an employee thriving in their role, having increased creativity and better relationships. Several studies reported that when researchers asked employees to journal their blessings over a period of four to eight weeks, workers reported more life satisfaction, positive moods, a greater sense of accomplishment, less emotional exhaustion, and less negative attitudes towards others. Feelings of depression and stress decreased, while gratitude for their jobs increased. Workplaces that express gratitude to customers show increased customer trust and loyalty.
What does it mean to practice gratitude? It is important to take note of the positive things in life. Even small things that one might normally take for granted, such as appreciation of other people, and of one’s own blessings. Taking time to entertain a feeling of awe when encountering beauty in nature, and focus on the positive that exists in the present moment. Even more, it is important to practice showing appreciation for those things.
A recipe for expressing gratitude:
- Take five minutes each day to reflect and journal what you are thankful for.
- Genuinely thank someone who has blessed your life.
- Smile as you greet others.
- Give something small to someone for no reason at all. It can even be a gift of your time.
- Act kindly and graciously to others without reward.
- Write a thank-you note.
- Make eye contact, pay attention and listen to others.
- Celebrate the achievements of others.
- Be thankful – it will find a way to come out.
Some fun facts from research:
- In a study on what makes a person likable, “grateful” ranked in the top four percent.
- Journaling for 5-minutes a day increased long-term wellbeing in a health-care study by decreasing physical symptoms and physical pain; increasing sleep and sleep quality; lowering symptoms of depression; and decreasing blood pressure.
- Over 90 percent of American teens and adults indicate that expressing gratitude increases their happiness.
Let’s not wait for the Thanksgiving holiday to give thanks. Let’s make it a daily habit all year round.
Dr. Pamela K. Duitsman is the County Engagement Specialist serving Christian County at University of Missouri Extension. You may reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the Extension office in Ozark at (417) 581-3558.