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The Connecting Power of Gratitude

by Lynette Silva

Post-it note reading "express your gratitude"Recognize This! – We have the power to increase our own feelings of gratitude and happiness.

It’s the US season of Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday of the year. Give me an excuse to eat too much and then nap in the afternoon, and I’m on board! I kid. I love Thanksgiving because the point of the day is to reflect on all that you are grateful for and, if possible, express that gratitude to others.

Sure, it feels good to reflect in this way, and a good deal of research shows how gratitude gives far more than it gets.

See this study referenced in the University of California, Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center:

A team at the University of Southern California has shed light on the neural nuts and bolts of gratitude in a new study, offering insights into the complexity of this social emotion and how it relates to other cognitive processes…

The researchers found that grateful brains showed enhanced activity in two primary regions: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These areas have been previously associated with emotional processing, interpersonal bonding and rewarding social interactions, moral judgment, and the ability to understand the mental states of others…

In other words, gratitude isn’t merely about reward—and doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It involves morality, connecting with others, and taking their perspective.

Gratitude is a connecting emotion, a bridge between us and others that helps us understand and bond with others more deeply. Perhaps more importantly, gratitude makes us want to connect with others in a more genuine and giving way. Embracing gratitude opens us to up to a much greater, richer world of experiences with others. And that itself is indeed something to be grateful for.

And this is just one study along these lines. Darcy Jacobsen shared 10 recent gratitude studies earlier this week. These two are my favorites:

  • A 2015 study published in the International Business Research journal showed that collective gratitude is important for organizations. Among other things, said researchers, gratitude can reduce turnover intention, foster employees’ organizational commitment, lead to positive organizational outcomes, and help in “eliminating the toxic workplace emotions, attitudes and negative emotions such as envy, anger and greed in today’s highly competitive work environment.”
  • A 2014 study of Chinese workers found that gratitude has a positive impact on trust between managers and their direct reports. Gratitude, said researchers, positively influenced the relationship between subordinates’ sense of being trusted, their performance, and their satisfaction.

Ways to Practice Gratitude

Studies are all well and good, but how can we incorporate gratitude more directly into our lives? It starts with making a daily practice of it. Even pausing for a moment before going to sleep each night to think of one thing you are grateful for helps increase your own experience of gratitude.

Happiness and positivity expert Shawn Achor cites expressing gratitude daily by deliberately writing or saying thank you to express appreciation for what you have as a primary means of increasing personal well-being. (Join us at WorkHuman 2016 to hear more from Shawn directly as well other acclaimed management authors and speakers.)

This year, use Thanksgiving as a way to kick off a new resolution – each day think of three things you are grateful for and express your appreciation and gratitude to others.

What are you grateful for?

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