Two weeks ago we farewelled my son Adam and his lovely girlfriend Annalise on their 7 month journey through Europe and Asia. I am enormously proud of them as they completed their first year of university, deferred, set a goal, worked like dogs, and finally set off on an amazing adventure. It brought back wonderful memories of my own travels but when I offered to accompany them, my offer was received less than enthusiastically 🙂
As a parent, my greatest wish is that through touring he realizes how privileged we are in Australia. I hasten to add that Adam is already grateful for the life he leads, but viewing our media, you would be surprised to learn that Australia was recently judged to have the best quality of life in the world. Travel allows you to learn that first hand. This reflection prompted me to consider the many benefits of gratitude.
Appreciating what we have
Immediately following the Global Financial Crisis, John Kralik was a burnt out and cynical Californian mortgage lawyer whose business was on the verge of collapse. He was going through divorce and very overweight. Worse than that, there was a pervasive negative attitude that he just couldn’t shake.
On New Year ’s Day whilst walking in the hills outside LA he decided that he couldn’t live as he had been doing, and resolved to write a thank you note every day for a year. He kept a diary (which became the bestseller 365 Thank yous) and chronicled an amazing turnaround in his personal and business life.
It is very easy to focus on what is wrong with our life and our work. With extraordinary change within the Australian economy we are continually asked to do more with less. How can we be grateful in the face of these demands?
Research tells us that we can not only learn to be more grateful, but as Kralik found, there are proven benefits from gratitude for ourselves and our business.
Dr Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading experts on the benefits of gratitude has found that grateful people:
- Have 10% fewer stress related illnesses
- Live 10 years longer
- Have 10% higher incomes
- Have more friends and are better liked
- In one University of Pennsylvania study employees were found to have 50% higher productivity with a grateful boss.
- 93% of employees believe a grateful boss is more likely to succeed, and yet:
- Almost all respondents reported that saying “thank you” to colleagues “makes me feel happier and more fulfilled”—but on a given day, only 10 % acted on that impulse.
- A stunning 60 % said they “either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year.”
What can we do to be more grateful?
Dr Robert Emmons and Dr Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Another leading researcher in this field, Dr Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.
3 proven tips to increase personal gratefulness
- Write a thank you note: In his 10 years as CEO of Campbell Soups Douglas Conant sent out 30,000 thank you notes to show employees he was paying attention and cared. He kept his notes short (50-70 words) and to the point. They celebrated accomplishments and significant achievements. They were all hand written to make the communication more authentic and personal. Who could you thank today?
- Count your blessings: A friend of mine had a traumatic childhood growing up with an alcoholic parent which she deeply resented. This lead to depression and chronic insomnia. She joined Al Anon which provides support to the loved ones of alcoholics. She was challenged by her sponsor to write down 12 things each day that she was grateful for which seemed like an impossibility when she started. After 3 months her whole mindset had changed, and she was sleeping much more soundly and was much more positive about her life.
Research shows that if you create a once a week ritual (decide when) writing what you are grateful for, there is a sustained positive impact on mood. Sometimes it helps to pick a number – like 3 to 5 things – to identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you. Why not try it for a month?
- Learn meditation: My personal recovery involved learning how to meditate through the Brahma Kumaris. Meditation is a proven way to increase self-compassion and in turn gratefulness. Don’t say “I’ve tried meditation and I can’t do it.” There are 4 main types of meditation: physical relaxation, guided imagery, mindfulness, and spiritual. Find an approach that suits you. Why not go to the library and borrow a few mediation CD’s and see if you can find an approach that suits you?