At first glance, the workplace—where we devote long hours, develop important relationships, and regularly participate in teamwork—seems an unlikely candidate for the title of World’s Least Appreciative Environment. But in reality, the speed at which we move through our daily motions, a lack of understanding around individual talents and contributions (read: what your colleague is actually doing over there), and a bad tendency to attribute the bulk of credit to people at the top puts gratitude in meager supply. In short, everyone loves to be thanked, but no one really prioritizes it.
It’s normal to give gratitude a backseat when your brain’s full of to-dos, but a growing body of science suggests forgetting your thank you’s might be to blame for unhappiness at work. According to Harvard Health, research in positive psychology shows that “gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Even more studies, old and new, show significant and concrete correlations between increased gratitude and improved happiness—in work and in life.
So how can you boost your outlook and improve workplace morale with gratitude? The key is making thankfulness a habit, which you can do in just a few minutes a day. Here are our three favorite gratitude exercises, backed by research, for getting it done.
1. Make a gratitude list
A popular piece of research by Robert Emmons of UC Davis and Michael McCollough of SMU evaluated the impacts of gratitude by studying three groups of people; instructing one group to write daily about anything, one to write daily about bad or negative experiences, and the last to make a daily list of things for which they were grateful. Results showed that participants in the last group experienced higher levels of enthusiasm, alertness, optimism, determination and energy, made greater progress towards achieving personal goals, and even exercised more regularly.
A daily exercise of listing several things you’re grateful for can increase happiness by 25 percent, and only takes a few minutes. Your lists can include anything you’re grateful for, but regularly including a few work-related items will support a more positive outlook on the job.
2. Create an environment of thankfulness
In 2010, a study by Adam Grant and Francesca Gino explored how gratitude motivated pro-social behavior—or in other words, how thanking someone for something motivated future acts of support. After being thanked for their personal contributions, participants in the study experienced increased feelings of value and worth, which in turn more than doubled their likelihood of repeating that helpful behavior.
For everyone, this study unveils an easy way to support the self-esteem of your colleagues. For people at the management level, it also suggests just how much support and productivity you could be losing by not expressing gratitude. To make sure you’re taking advantage of the benefits of appreciation and acknowledgment, try building intentional and genuine thanking into your team meetings or one-on-ones.
3. Acknowledge every contribution
Like this article by Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center points out, every organization has its glory hogs. Founders get most of the credit at startups, performers get most of the credit for great Broadway shows (and so on), but neither of these roles can be successfully performed without immeasurable support from others.
Groups or individuals in highly visible, oft-thanked positions aren’t necessarily at fault, they just absorb the bulk of the limelight due to human laziness. While it’s much easier to high-five a leader in your organization for her or his teams’ accomplishments, acknowledging the whole team with a warm email will highlight the critical support of each individual, and boost the happiness of an entire group of individuals instead of just one.
How about you?
How has gratitude shaped your workplace?