Here is today’s BIG IDEA—The research is very clear that gratitude changes your brain chemistry and wiring, your leadership results, your physical health, and the health of your organization.

Many years ago, I was leading meth recovery groups for the VA hospital. One group member had just lost his job due to relapse and was feeling particularly depressed. One of his peers, who was not one to mince words, immediately spoke up— “When was the last time you made a gratitude list?”

In the recovery community, gratitude lists are considered essential for survival, mindset, and shifting perspective.

In fact, a huge meta-analysis in 2009 summarized 49 studies on the effects of positive psychology interventions and found that gratitude journaling was a powerful factor in overall well-being and a great defense against depression.

The famous psychologist Martin Seligman, who largely pioneered the Positive Psychology movement, conducted extensive research in the 1990s and found that practicing gratitude was one of the seven essential habits of happy people.

Gratitude is also closely linked to optimism, which has been shown to improve immune function, prevent chronic disease, and help you cope with stressful life events. Research on optimism even suggests that it can reduce the risk of early death! (See link at bottom)

Gratitude is also vital for leadership

Can you imagine a great leader who never thanked anyone?

Stop and imagine for a moment a boss you had who rarely thanked you for anything. Chances are good you don’t work there anymore.

Research has shown that the number one reason people leave jobs is the direct supervisor. And a primary factor is this—people who feel unappreciated leave. If you don’t keep good people around you by expressing your gratitude, your leadership will be extremely weak.

And you need to model it if you want your team to do it.

If you are weak on gratitude, you must learn to make it part of your behavioral DNA—for your health, your family relationships, and your workplace impact.

Multiple studies have suggested that just establishing a “thank you culture” is a powerful factor for productivity and profit. One study at University of Pennsylvania found that leaders who thanked their teams more frequently generated 50% more fundraising calls.

The Great Place to Work Institute lists “showing appreciation and recognition” as one of the nine factors in making the Forbes list of top 100 places to work!

The American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence also lists Employee Recognition as one of the top 5 factors for a psychologically healthy workplace.

The following are benefits of gratitude at work:

  • Increases productivity
  • Improves employee well-being
  • Gratitude is contagious and spreads
  • Increases job satisfaction
  • Lowers burnout and exhaustion
  • Reduces absences and turnover
  • Increases employee engagement
  • Can reduce employee gossip and cynicism

As if this wasn’t enough evidence, research indicates that gratitude is a powerful factor in changing your brain chemistry and rewiring your brain.

When someone thanks you for something meaningful, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin. Haven’t you experienced this? It can be powerful, emotional, and deeply fulfilling.

The famous neuroscientist Antonio Damasio said—“we are not thinking machines that feel, but emotional machines that think.” Consider this deeply as you lead others.

In our culture, we are often way too focused on comparison and what others have. But gratitude refocuses us on what we do have, instead of what we don’t have.

I don’t know about you, but I need a reminder to be grateful every day. As a recovering perfectionist, I’m often thinking of what needs to be fixed, upgraded, or improved. But that mindset is the root of unhappiness, restlessness, and the inability to be present.

And it goes without saying that gratitude also works well in marriages and parenting! Try thanking your family members more often and see what happens. 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

–Cicero

Turn information into action

Pick one of these right now!

  1. Thank every member of your team today for something specific.
  2. Establish a gratitude ritual before your Thanksgiving meal.
  3. Make the longest gratitude list you can come up with on Thanksgiving morning.

Have a great weekend.

Parker

*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested Resources

  1. Positive Psychology Website
    1. https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/
  2. Great Forbes article on gratitude in the workplace
    1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2016/11/20/how-an-authentic-thank-you-can-change-your-workplace-culture/#16e03f697990
  3. Optimism reduces the risk of early death:
    1. https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/positive-thinking/

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a board-certified Organizational Psychologist and Leadership Performance Coach. His personal mission is to improve the way people live and work by helping them apply science-based strategies for personal, family, and workplace leadership—in that order. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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