You know that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you say thank you or express appreciation or recognize someone for their work? At Thanksgiving, it is ever-present and probably at the top of your mind right now. Well, all that warmth is being driven by cold hard facts about what's happening in your brain. What's more, being thankful has benefits beyond the feeling you get, as it actually makes a difference in the performance of workers and organizations as a whole.

So what is actually happening in the human brain related to the act of gratitude and why does it matter? Well, according to this article by Arthur Brooks in the New York Times, the answer to why it matters is a pretty easy one--the more thankful you are the happier you'll be. "Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude-- and that doing so raises our happiness," states Brooks. The brain science behind it is more complex but very compelling.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina "took a genetic approach to test the hypothesis that social interactions involving expressed gratitude would be associated with variation in a gene...that has been shown to affect oxytocin secretion." Oxytocin is thought to be a key component in human bonding and relationships, and so this finding is pretty big. Essentially what they found is that the more we can express gratitude the closer we become with others and potentially the greater our happiness. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, states, "Only 25 percent of job success is based upon IQ. Seventy-five percent is about how your brain believes your behavior matters, connects to other people, and manages stress."

Additional studies have also pointed to the psychological benefits of gratitude as a path toward greater happiness. This article from the Huffington Post detailed studies by University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology researcher, Dr. Martin Seligman, in which subjects were asked to deliver a note of thanks to someone to someone who had not been properly thanked previously. Each subject then recorded their levels of happiness. The result? Participants exhibited a significant increase in happiness scores.

You might be saying...this is all fine and good, but how does giving thanks and being positive actually affect my business? Why do any of this if there's evidence that total jerks can lead companies to great heights? As leaders, you might think you have more important things to think about and do. I'm here to tell you that this will make a big difference and that expressing thanks and gratitude to your employees and customers should be a huge part of any leader's job description.

Here's how it makes a difference in your business if you express thankfulness.

Thankfulness equates to happiness: By activating the right parts of the brain, expressing thankfulness and gratitude actually can make you (and your workforce) happier and more satisfied. Think about the difference between workers who are actively engaged in the happiness of others and those are just at work to clock in and out. There's a reason why companies are stressing culture and the importance of collaboration--it's because it directly affects the happiness levels of their employees. So if you can boost happiness by being more grateful, why not do it?

Happiness equates to productivity: If you're catching a theme to this article, it's that the "warm fuzzies" aren't what's really important (though they're a nice benefit). If being grateful makes you and others happier...well, it turns out that happiness has big-time business benefits as well, most notably productivity. According to Fast Company, there's a link between happiness and productivity that companies need to take advantage of. The article cites research from The University of Warwick, which found that happiness boosted productivity by 12% while unhappiness reduced productivity by 10%.

Productivity equates to the bottom line: This is one is obvious since the more productive a company is, the more effective it is. You can get more impact from a smaller pool of resources when you're productivity is maximized. However, it also makes a difference on a bigger level. Companies that understand how to maximize gratitude, happiness and engagement from a cultural level, can see productivity be sustainable. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, research from Columbia University shows that companies can be more productive by having a great corporate culture that reduces turnover and keeps happy and effective workers for longer.

Want to practice being better at being thankful? It isn't easy so check it out, and this Thanksgiving, be sure to express thanks both around your dining room table and your meeting room table.

Published on: Nov 24, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.