“Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not
on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” —Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897)
If you live in the States, the 4th Thursday of November is the day set aside to be thankful. We are encouraged to focus on our blessings and good fortune. It is a day to be grateful for all that fills our lives with joy. Thanksgiving – the day of expressing gratitude.
But why do we do this? Why set aside a full day as a holiday to lift up the importance of gratitude and reflect on the favor we’ve enjoyed? Part of the answer, I would argue, is born out of the collective wisdom of human experience. Like a wise whisperer from generations past, something down deep inside tells us that it is good to pause and balance our selfish drives and greed with deferential and authentic expressions of gratitude. That we are better people when we give thanks more and serve ourselves less. That living fully into thanksgiving brings a quiet peace to our lives. We just “know” these things.
But, today, with various streams of research focusing on the topic of gratitude and its impact on the human condition, we are finding evidence for the wisdom and philosophies of our progenitors. Regular expressions of gratitude, it seems, bring with them a whole set of positive and powerful life-affirming benefits. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology, at UC Davis, is a leading researcher in the area of gratitude and his findings suggest that those who regularly choose an attitude of gratitude experience significant improvements in several areas of life including relationships, overall emotional well-being, academics, energy level, and even dealing with tragedy and crisis.
Specifically, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions. Young adults who focused on gratitude reported higher levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to those who focused on hassles or on a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).
And, if you provide leadership in your organization, here are some key findings. Groups that express gratitude regularly report similar positive affects as mentioned above and report that the sense of entitlement and jealousy among group members is diminished. Sharing our reflections of gratitude, it seems, is not just good for us individually. This ages-old practice also appears to make us much more effective together.
So next Monday morning, when your team gathers for the normal staff meeting after this Thanksgiving, commit to focusing on gratitude regularly. Begin the meeting by having each team member share something for which they are grateful. Not only will people feel better, the team will be strengthened.
Happy Thanksgiving to each of you!