'Tis the season for taking the time to reflect on what we're thankful for in life. Spending that time with friends and family to give thanks is what makes the holidays so special. But why should we limit it to just a few weeks in the year? Gratitude is a muscle we should strengthen year-round to make us healthier, happier humans and leaders.
Many associate gratitude with saying "thank you" to someone who has helped us, making it a fleeting act of appreciation. From a scientific perspective, it's an emotion that can result in long-lasting positivity. According to Robert Emmons, a leading researcher, gratitude has two key stages: acknowledging the goodness in life, and recognizing who to thank for it.
People feel and express gratitude in different ways. Some keep a journal to write down what they're grateful for each day, while others strive for a daily act of kindness. In the workplace, we can practice gratitude by viewing failure as a way to grow, or taking the time to tell a co-worker how they've inspired us. Regardless, it's a quality that can always be strengthened with use and practice.
This year, when you find yourself around a table with loved ones sharing what you're grateful for, take a moment to consider how you'll practice gratitude throughout the year. Here are a few reasons why gratitude shouldn't only be relegated to the holiday season:
Gratitude builds empathy.
Gratitude is a selfless act. When you make it a priority to take a moment to look beyond your flooded inbox, color-coordinated calendar, or the alerts on your Slack, you start to appreciate what you have in your life and recognize what others may not be so fortunate to have.
We oftentimes take for granted the simple things in life. Those who recognize the goodness in life, no matter how simple or automatic, are more likely to be sensitive to the needs of others and to help whenever they can. Being empathetic to others' opinions, experiences, and backgrounds will make you a better professional, no matter your career.
Gratitude is good for your health.
Through his research, Emmons found that grateful people reported feeling healthier, both mentally and physically. Specifically, those who were grateful were 25 percent happier than those who weren't.
In the workplace, well-being is a crucial topic when it comes to preventing employee burnout and promoting engagement. Beyond the research that shows that employees who are shown that they are appreciated are more productive by 50 percent, caring for your employees' well-being is simply the right thing to do. Providing programs that support managing life's everyday challenges, offering meditation and fitness classes, or implementing flexible work schedules are just a few things that, when paired with gratitude, can lead to more productive, engaged, and happier working professionals.
Gratitude makes us more self-aware.
Working in an ever-evolving, fast-paced industry, I am surrounded by ambitious people who are always striving for more and better. Gratitude challenges you to reflect in the moment instead of always thinking about the future. It starts by paying attention to what's going on in your life, and that true self-awareness is a key ingredient to being successful in your career.
A year ago, I attended a training that focused on how you manage your energy. As a result of the training, I now have a half hour in my calendar every week to be intentional about thanking folks I work with--whether customers, candidates, partners, managers on our team, or peers I learn from daily. Doing so has made me more likely to recognize great work, more positive about the overall direction of our team, and has empowered me to notice good things, not just things that need to be fixed.
Gratitude helps build strong relationships.
Gratitude is a powerful tool for strengthening relationships, both at work and in your personal life. It's been found that people who express their gratitude tend to be more willing to forgive others and therefore able to create long-lasting connections.
During my month-long sabbatical, I made it a point to be reflective during the time I had without distractions or deadlines. Part of that was taking a mental inventory of the people, things, and experiences I was grateful for in my life. I decided to reach out to my fifth-grade teacher while I was visiting my hometown and thank her for being a positive mentor and a strong influence on my life.
The old saying goes "it's never too late to say you're sorry," but the same is true of gratitude. Taking the time to thank people for their work, kindness, or empathy--whether it was today, last month, or many years ago--makes you happier, healthier, and more self-aware. And that's a gift worth celebrating 365 days a year.