The Benefits of Gratitude
Since Thanksgiving is the time for giving thanks, it was very predictable that I saw quite a few articles and posts about the importance of expressing gratitude.
One author talked about the benefits of doing a “gratitude journal”, and how it made him connect better to all the wonderful people, places, and things he had experienced.
Another article contained this very interesting summary of the benefits of gratitude, by Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of the division of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center:
If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.
As Dr. Doraiswamy explains, studies have shown how the expression of gratitude leads to measurable effects on multiple body and brain systems.
- Mood neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine)
- Reproductive hormones (testosterone)
- Social bonding hormones (oxytocin)
- Cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine)
- Inflammatory and immune systems (cytokines)
- Stress hormones (cortisol)
- Cardiac and EEG rhythms
- Blood pressure, and
- Blood sugar
I would say those are some pretty convincing benefits!
Wins and Gratitudes
Jeff Walker, a successful author and leadership blogger I follow, suggested that gratitude was so important that he committed himself to writing down 3 Wins each evening to reinforce not only what he had accomplished, but to keep him connected with a consistent sense of progress.
He suggested making this a habit by trying to do it every night, or the next morning if you missed, for 21 days to try and make it stick.
Jeff indicated that he expanded this technique to include 3 Gratitudes as well.
Given the benefits that Dr. Doraiswamy mentioned, we should be motivated to at least try this.
Gratitude and Resilience
On Thanksgiving, Michael Hyatt, who publishes a very interesting leadership blog, published a post entitled Why Giving Thanks Gives You an Edge.
In this post, Hyatt states that:
Positive emotions like gratitude help us become more resilient.
He tied the concept of resilience to being thankful with the following 3 points:
- Gratitude keeps us hopeful. Gratitude keeps us positive, optimistic, and able to keep coming back for more when life throws obstacles in our way.
- Gratitude reminds us that we have agency, because gratitude involves giving thanks for what we couldn’t manage on our own. By agency, he means that if we had not engaged in an activity or taken certain steps, nothing would have happened.
- Gratitude expands our possible responses. Gratitude moves us into a place of abundance—a place where we’re more resourceful, creative, generous, optimistic, and kind. We build upon the positive experience that we are grateful for and it helps us see further options.
Those are all some very interesting and compelling reasons for us to reflect on all that we should be thankful for.
I think each of these folks is also saying that this should not be something we do on just the last Thursday in November each year or weekly in your house of worship.
Keeping the Momentum
I was recently putting together a summary of some key accomplishments for this year as a part of an exercise I was engaged in.
2015 has been a year of transition for me, but when I tallied up all the various things I had made progress upon, I was pleasantly surprised.
The key insight that I gained was that my investments in my business, my social network and my range of activities that I enjoy, reinforced the positive sense of momentum that I had established. This is very consistent with all the comments of the other authors I quoted earlier.
So here’s a suggested format for you to do the same thing.
Again, this is a one-time reflection on those things that we are thankful for – a summary of what’s been accomplished that will hopefully incentivize you to increase your momentum for 2016.
It’s also an excellent way to begin summarizing your business accomplishments for the year as you set your goals for next year.
- What did you learn this year – classes, seminars, readings, etc.?
- What skills have you expanded or enhanced – personal and professional?
- What personal accomplishments or milestones have you achieved this year?
- What business goals, milestones or progress are you proud of?
For Family and Friends:
- Who did you reach out to or reconnect with that you’re glad about?
- What did you do with any family or friends that was particularly enjoyable?
- Were you able to deepen relationships or build new ones?
For the Rest of the World:
- Outside the two areas above, for example your business or profession, professional groups, your community, or any other area you are passionate about.
- Have I given back to my community in any way – School Board, PTO, Rotary, Lions, School or church fundraisers, etc.?
- Participated in or coordinated food, blood or Christmas toy drives, given time to homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity or other charity work?
I encourage you to find some time between now and the end of the year to take a pad of paper and a writing instrument, and sit down in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted.
I would suggest you give yourself one solid, uninterrupted hour to spend on this valuable reflection. I also suggest writing it on paper rather than typing it because studies have shown that the physical act of writing makes things more memorable and helps us get more in touch with our thoughts.
I’m not trying to get new age or all Zen on you, but I believe this exercise will provide substantial benefits.
- Are you willing to set aside one hour for such quiet reflection?
- Have you experienced the positive benefits of either contemplating or expressing gratitude yourself?
- Would you be willing to consider trying the 3 Wins / 3 Gratitudes exercise for 21 days just to see what might happen?
Thank you all for not only considering these suggestions, but more importantly, for providing me the inspiring and supportive feedback about my writing over the last two years.
This January, I will be publishing a book, Discover The Joy of Leading: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Management Challenges. You’ll hear about this later.
Your support has created the momentum to accomplish this.
I am grateful to you all.