Feeling grateful supports many of our best capabilities and qualities. Especially when gratitude translates to actions that are good for relationships and the world around us, its potency is compounded. Gratitude and the related emotions of appreciation and thankfulness have been experienced for as long as humans have gazed at the cosmos, celebrated the sunrise or witnessed a birth. True feelings of gratitude help unleash a host of positive chemicals that benefit our psycho-physiological and social systems. It’s a gift to share now and into the New Year.
Being grateful is a gift that pays it forward for you, and for others
The word Gratitude is derived from the Latin root word gratus – or that for which we feel thankful. It is distinct from a sense of satisfaction from personal accomplishment. To feel grateful acknowledges that something bigger than ourselves is involved when good comes our way. Things like love, health, safety, community – these are beyond what drive, smarts, power and money alone can acquire.
Research validates benefits
When we feel truly grateful, our body releases a host of chemicals including serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine. This allows the heart to direct the brain to align with its electrical pulse, putting both in an optimal, synced frequency. With mind and body in this state, our physiology is poised so that our cognitive capabilities can do their best work with complex, objective, and long-term thinking. Beyond this, research continues discovering additional social benefits: when we’re grateful, we demonstrate it through behaviors that show others we care about and appreciate them. Gratitude in actions that are wiser, more generous, more courageous and more in tune with doing the greatest good for others. Just imagine how 30 minutes daily of feeling grateful could give a much-needed boost to those we lead at work, home and in the world!
Lead from a place of thankfulness
Many times, my clients say they’re feeling burned out, stuck and not able to make a difference. Despite their tremendous skills and effort, these brilliant leaders have forgotten to lead from a place of thankfulness. Simple as it may sound, it can be tough to bring gratitude to the forefront when life pummels us from all sides with hardship. Over time, we can become numb, exhausted and lose the will to even look for something good.
Without gratitude, the busy-ness of our doing-ness can feel meaningless
As long as we have breath, we can be grateful for it. We can allow that gratitude to move us towards feeling and acting towards others with hope, compassion and wisdom. Just a few minutes daily lays helps create a powerful habit that’s good for us and those we lead.
Take a stance on gratitude
If you don’t already have an approach that reinforces gratitude in your leadership and life, here are five steps that have been useful for many clients:
- Invest ten minutes each morning and evening to breathe deeply and focus on the area around your heart. Acknowledge that which you appreciate in life. You may even use a prior experience in which you felt deeply grateful, and re-live that feeling to the point of feeling the emotion again. With practice, you can trigger the release of beneficial heart-brain chemistry by simply seeing the event or using a word or picture to recall it.
- Write down those things for which you’re grateful, at least weekly. Some clients like to carry a journal with them or a log on their smartphone. In stressed situations, reviewing this list can help transition us to a more objective, courageous and compassionate presence.
- Discover the gift of the gift. How has that for which you’re grateful added meaning to your life and possibly benefited others? Example: being able to sing allows me to bring comfort others OR being able to quickly assess complex situations allows me to help solve problems.
- Share your gratitude in specific ways each week. Do something for others because you’re thankful. Be specific about the what, where, when and who. Follow up.
Gratitude matters. It’s an emotion that supports our heart, mind and body. Its benefits are continually being discovered and reported in research, some of which I’ve used for this blog and have shared below.
Let’s offer gratitude as the gift of this and every season.
Gratitude is good for humans!
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- The Appreciative Heart: by HeartMath Research Center, Publication No. 02-026.
- Gratitude is the New Willpower; D. Desteno, HBR, April 2014
- Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling; S. Kyeong in Scientific Reports, 07.2017
- The Effects of Gratitude Expression on neural activity; by P. Kini, J. Wong, S. McInnis, N. Gabana and J. Brown in NeuroImage – 10.2015.