turning your gratitude practice outward at work

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The practice of gratitude is one of the most popular developments in the mindfulness movement. For the most part, gratitude is a personal, internal practice in which people think about or write down the things—big and small—for which they are thankful, and in return, they experience increased contentment, satisfaction, and internal peace. As the scientific support for this area of mindfulness grows, some researchers are now beginning to wonder if turning a gratitude practice outward could benefit groups as powerfully as an inward gratitude practice seems to benefit individuals. The research is new, but the outlook is promising, and today we’re going to look at the transformative potential of creating a culture of expressive gratitude in your workplace.

The Problem: Stress

Nowadays, most people live in a nearly constant state of stress, and all of that worrying can turn us into frazzled and unpleasant individuals. And, since we’re not always good at coping with or compartmentalizing those negative feelings, we tend to bring all of those negative feelings with us wherever we go—including our workplaces. Left unchecked, our stress and exhaustion spread to our coworkers like a bad cold until everyone is suffering and our collective emotional contagions lead to communication breakdowns, inefficiency, burnout, and unhappiness.

The Solution: Gratitude

That’s where gratitude comes in. Many people have found that taking time to think, write, or meditate on the many things they’re grateful for helps them to live in the present and take a mental break from the thoughts that bring them stress and anxiety.

These positive outcomes have robust and ever-growing scientific support. For instance, in a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003, researchers Robert A. Emmons (University of California, Davis) and Michael. E McCullough (University of Miami) describe one study that found that “a weekly benefit listing was associated with more positive and optimistic appraisals of one’s life, more time spent exercising, and fewer reported physical symptoms.” They also cited a second study analyzing the benefits of a daily gratitude practice, which found that “people led to focus on their blessings were also more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another.”

These studies (and many more like them) have uncovered clear benefits of gratitude, both for the person practicing mindfulness and the people around them. So, if your workplace environment is stressful, abrasive, or full of people who struggle to be mentally or emotionally present, you can be confident that reducing your stress through gratitude has the power to create positive change for your coworkers as well.

Creating a Culture of Gratitude

If you want to take it a step further, though, turning your practice outward by expressing gratitude directly to your coworkers can increase those benefits exponentially and may even improve your overall workplace culture. Gratitude is not yet a common feature of most American workplaces, but it may be an important step toward creating more supportive, fulfilling work environments.

Expressive gratitude can take many forms. Hearing a “thank you” from a superior can be very meaningful, a fact that one CEO who writes yearly personalized notes for each of his company’s 7,400 employees has taken to heart. However, receiving recognition and gratitude from your peers can have even more significant and long-term benefits—a 2012 study of mental health professionals found that people who gave and received workplace-specific expressions of gratitude (both verbal and written) experienced less burnout and more job satisfaction.

The most powerful expressions of gratitude tend to be specific, authentic, and personalized.  Whether you communicate your gratitude in a letter, a short note, or a one-on-one conversation, expressing gratitude at work is a powerful way to reduce stress, affirm others, and build stronger relationships between coworkers—all of which will also have positive effects on productivity and job satisfaction. The science is clear: When stress brings people down, gratitude can lift everyone back up, so start your workplace transformation today by finding a reason to say “thank you.”

By blake beus
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