It's that time of year when Americans start looking forward to (or dreading) the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday--the turkey, the cranberry relish, the family gossip. Whichever camp you fall into, the holiday offers us a time to reflect and feel grateful for all that we have. It turns out that the very act of feeling grateful can have positive impacts far beyond the moment. Practicing the art of gratitude can lead to a measurable increase in creativity and innovation at work.

Happy people are more creative and productive

According to Pete Sulack, America's leading stress reduction expert and the founder of StressRX.com, gratitude affects the limbic system of your brain, replacing fear, dread, doubt, and cynicism with good images of the people and things you are personally grateful for. "The HPA axis that is responsible for the fight/flight/freeze response in humans is stopped dead in its tracks with the introduction of gratitude. To boost your personal happiness, learn and practice gratitude," Sulack advises. Actively feeling grateful acts "as a counterbalance to the stressors in your life. Those times when you work too much, don't get enough sleep, don't eat right, burn the candle at both ends, drink too much coffee--you know those days. Gratitude can be the antidote to depression and stress."

Gratitude can boost your creativity

Most jobs today aren't industrial or agricultural--they don't depend on brawn and brute strength. Instead, they depend on cunning, intuition, problem solving, and creativity. Sulack notes: "When we are stressed, we revert to behaviors that are routine, time-tested, and familiar--our 'go to' plan of action. We do this because we are in survival mode. When we are stressed, we are using an industrial, assembly-line type of thinking, instead of creative, out-of-the-box thinking."

This way of thinking is counterproductive to creativity, and, according to Sulack, gratitude can change that. "To be creative and get beyond those compensatory behaviors and try new ones, we must address the stress response," he says. "Gratitude is one powerful way to do that. When you are grateful, your stress is reduced and you experience positive emotions. These in turn help you remember peripheral details more vividly, think outside the box, and recognize common themes among random or unassociated ideas. All of this adds up to a more creative response." How does it actually work? "Gratitude is the foundation of joy and contentment," Sulack explains. "Research consistently shows that these positive emotions broaden an individual's thought-action repertoire, which expands that individual's intellectual and social resources."

Gratitude can make you more innovative

For similar reasons, gratitude can boost innovation. "Practicing gratitude requires that you be present in the 'here and now' and grounded," says Sulack. "It takes you out of that world of worry, full of 'what if ... ' that beleaguers and besets us so often with stress, anxiety, and narrowed thinking. Practicing gratitude gets you in the habit of putting your attention on something outside the immediate 'problem'--the bottom line, the drama around the water cooler, the late shipments. It demands attention. By developing the ability to stop and be grateful right now, you train your mind to pay attention to just one thing and replace negative thoughts with positive ones." By getting into the flow of gratitude, you can unlock other creative thoughts.

What can you be grateful for?

Asking yourself what you are grateful for, as a form of meditation, does not come naturally to many people. When in doubt, Sulack suggests you look to your adversities. "In his book 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class: The Thought Processes, Habits, and Philosophies of the Great Ones, Steve Siebold reiterates that champions have learned that adversity is the catalyst of mental toughness," says Sulack. "When times are tough, you can always be grateful for the push adversity gives you to learn and grow. While it is easy to take the path of least resistance, griping and complaining about your situation, true leaders know that pain is a part of life, but suffering is optional. Choose gratitude. Choose joy. This will make you more creative and innovative--and ultimately more successful in any endeavor." As an action step, Sulack suggests naming one adversity you have faced and then recalling all the good things that happened to you because of it.

By using gratitude as a way to relax and reset your mind, you open up the possibility of new creativity and innovation. Now that's something to be grateful for this Thanksgiving!

Published on: Nov 16, 2016