This informal CPD article An Attitude of Gratitude - Why the Little Things in Life (And Work) Matter was provided by Lianne Weaver of Beam Development and Training, a provider of CPD accredited courses designed to help employers and employees take responsibility for their wellbeing.
As you go about your busy daily life, how often do you stop to consider things you’re grateful for?
You may be aware that you’re grateful for the big things - for instance, if asked you might say you’re grateful for your career, your home, your family and friends. But when did you last take the time to consider the small things each and every day which, if you gave yourself time to think about it, you would realise you are actually grateful for?
According to Dr Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions we possess. There are certainly countless academic and scientific research studies on gratitude and all seem to show very similar results. They suggest that people who practise gratitude tend to be happier, healthier have stronger social connections and are more resilient.
What do we mean by ‘gratitude’?
Our brains have a natural tendency to focus on the negative. This isn’t because our brains are deliberately trying to make us unhappy; it’s because, by focusing upon the negative, our brains intend to prepare us for and protect us from getting hurt.
However if we allow our brains to constantly focus on the negative the only time we’ll appreciate what’s good in our lives is either if we are risk of losing it or if we actually lose it. Cultivating an ‘attitude of gratitude’ - learning how to build gratitude into our everyday lives - is the perfect balancing act to this.
Gratitude at work
How does all of this affect the workplace? In an article for Greater Good Magazine, Dr Emmons drew on extensive research to highlight how being grateful can improve our relationships and performance at work. He identified three key ways that gratitude can affect the workplace, writing that:
- Grateful people enjoy more restful, restorative, and refreshing sleep. This inevitably leads to benefits at work the next day.
- Gratitude produces higher levels of positive emotions that are beneficial in the workplace, such as joy, enthusiasm, and optimism, and lower levels of the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.
- Being grateful inspires employees to be helpful and compassionate; they are more likely to be creative, curious and open to learning and development
In fact, in his book The Little Book of Gratitude, Dr Emmons wrote that gratitude is “the ultimate performance-enhancing substance”.
Making gratitude a part of every day
So if there really are so many benefits, how do we go about making gratitude an integral part of our lives?
When I talk about practising gratitude, what I encourage is that you practise specific gratitude. If I said: “Tell me three things you’re grateful for,” and you said: “My home, my family, my friends,” whilst that is undoubtedly true it is also vague, because these are such big concepts.
If however I said: "Tell me three things you’re specifically grateful for today," and you replied: “A lovely cup of tea, a great conversation with my friend on the phone, and a lovely hug from a loved one,” then those three things, no matter how small, make your brain recognise the specific act that has occurred during the day. This creates a strong emotional connection within the brain, and the result is that the brain will start to get used to looking for those small things as we go through each day.
This exercise only takes a few minutes and is something I recommend that we all do each evening. Get a nice notebook and pen, keep it by the side of your bed, and every night write down three things you are specifically grateful for that day. Make this a habit every single night.
If you are in a negative headspace, for the first five or six days of practising gratitude it will be challenging. You’ll think about what has happened in the day and your brain will tell you that nothing good has happened - in fact, it will tell you that only bad things have happened. This is normal and is the part of the brain that likes to focus on the negative. It’s known as the negativity bias.
The good news is that if you persevere and you keep looking for those little things you’re grateful for, around day five or six something amazing happens. The brain starts to value this information and, as you go through your day, you start to look for and notice things that make you feel happy. So instead of just reflecting at the end of the day you’ll go through your day thinking: “That’s a beautiful flower; this is a lovely, sunny day; that’s kind of that person to let me out at the lights,” and so on.
If you were to ask me: “What is the most powerful tool you could give me to be happier?” or: “What is the most powerful way that I could change my negative headspace into a positive headspace?” then I would recommend practising gratitude.
It really is simple, and the great thing is that you will notice even on the bad days there are plenty of good things. In fact, the good almost always outweighs the bad. It’s a great tool that has been proven to have great benefits.
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