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Still time to be Thankful

Posted by Matt Nagler, Managing Partner  

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If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen the “21 days of gratitude” challenge that’s been going around. It’s that time of year. Someone I know spends a week thinking about what she’ll say at the annual Thanksgiving “what are you grateful for” round robin. People approach it differently, but one thing I know (based on my very scientific Facebook scrolling and conversations) is that not so many talk a lot about work when they’re giving thanks. And if they do, it’s rarely more detailed than that they’re grateful to have a job. (Which is absolutely something worth expressing gratitude for.)


So, what about gratitude at work? How come that’s something we so rarely focus think about? According to research at The John Templeton Foundation, “people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else. And they’re not thankful for their current jobs, ranking them dead last in a list of things they’re grateful for.”


As the field of positive psychology has grown in the past decade, so has the focus on the ways that expressing gratitude can affect our lives. Study after study has shown that keeping a list of things that you’re grateful for leads to significantly improvement in overall life satisfaction and happiness. It doesn’t even matter if you’re in the mood to be gracious. Just doing it - saying it, writing it, Facebooking it - changes you.


It’s not just that focusing on the good makes you feel better than focusing on the bad (though that’s part of it,) but expressing gratitude lights up the parts of your brain that reduce stress and make you feel like you’re being rewarded.  And it affects the people around us; the mere act of saying “thank you” to someone is the best way to disarm anger. But according to a study by Plasticity Research, 30% of us thank a co-worked only once a week – and 29% of us almost never do.


Gratitude, the mere act of being thankful for something, can make your work better. It doesn’t rely on achieving a goal, it barely takes anytime and it gets easier the more you do it. So as Thanksgiving is upon us, here are some tips for way to make work better through gratitude:


  • Start internally. When you arrive in the morning, tell yourself something you’re thankful for in your workplace. Consider keeping a written list. And remember, it doesn’t matter if you’re actively feeling grateful at that moment or if you feel like doing it. It’s the act of doing that counts.              
  • Take it outward. If you’re doing the Facebook challenge, be sure to make some of your posts about work. Thank people when they’ve helped you, even in small ways - your peers, the people who work for and your bosses. Dr. Martin Seligman, author of “Authentic Happiness” and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests making it a morning routine to send one or two short emails each morning to people (in this case, colleagues) thanking them for what they do.
  • Have fun. As Arthur Brooks recently said in the New York Times, “rebel against the emotional ‘authenticity’ that holds you back...” Not every moment of gratitude needs to be for something life changing. I, for instance, have been grateful for the array of Post-It colors in the supply closet.


So here’s to the wonderful people I work with, the myriad ways my job fulfills me, and the well-stocked office supplies. Hope you had a very happy Thanksgiving.