The power of gratitude

Our last Unboxed wellbeing session of 2023 was a heartwarming discussion about gratitude. I always expect our wellbeing drop in's to be positive but this one turned out to be especially good. We used our virtual gratitude jar to share our appreciation for our colleagues over the past year. Listening to everyone talk with such authenticity really supported the idea that expressing gratitude is good for us.

We are evolutionarily hardwired to pay attention to negative feelings or experiences. Bad is often stronger than good. So it’s important to remind ourselves to be appreciative of the people in our lives that give us meaning and value. Building a practice of gratitude can have huge benefits for our personal and professional wellbeing. It can help us to cope with stress, be more resilient and build strong relationships.

What is gratitude?

The word gratitude comes from the Latin “gracia” meaning grace, graciousness or gratefulness. All these words have their roots in kindness. Most commonly it is the perception of a positive personal outcome as a result of the actions of another person.

Related to the concepts of optimism, hope and compassion, gratitude can be thought of as a moral virtue, an emotion, a state or an attitude. A simple definition: the act of recognising and appreciating the things that are meaningful to us.

As a state, gratitude is experienced as a moment in time. Acknowledging a colleague who has given up some extra time to help with a challenging task. Or a friend checking in. Acts of kindness to feel grateful for.

Described as a character strength or virtue, some people seem to experience gratitude more often and over a longer period of time, more naturally than other people. Research shows that people with the trait of gratitude tend to be happier and have greater life satisfaction. However, the good news is that even if it is something that does not come easily to us, it’s something that we can learn to do and consciously practice.

Why is it good for our professional wellbeing?

A workplace culture of appreciation and kindness fosters greater motivation, engagement, retention and productivity.

Feeling thankful promotes positive feelings. And there is plenty of empirical evidence to back this connection up. When we feel more positive we are better able to build on positive emotions and show greater resilience to cope well when times are tough. Positive emotions are contagious too. When we experience gratitude, we are more likely to reciprocate and extend it to others. Expressing our gratitude shows we care. We are acknowledging something positive in another person and the impact that has on us, which strengthens our bonds.

There is an explicit exchange between people, one that has been referred to as a ‘moral barometer’. This allows the two sides of a relationship to experience kindness. When the going gets tough on a project, it’s often our team mates we rely on for support, help and encouragement.

Evidence shows that practising and showing gratitude can improve our self-esteem, life satisfaction and encourage more prosocial behaviours. It can help us to find meaning in our work and improve our short and long term decision making. And if we are feeling valued and motivated then we are better protected against work related stress.

Things we can all do

Say thank you! Across the workplace, saying thank you to colleagues and clients for acts of support and kindness, or for doing a good job, goes a long way. And research finds that a thank you from leadership goes even further.

Make appreciation the norm. At Unboxed, we dedicate spaces throughout the day and year, to reflect on and express our appreciation to our colleagues. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day where our focus can narrow to the challenges. Whether it’s giving a shout out in Slack or doing a gratitude jar or journal, sharing our gratitude for others goes a long way to building and maintaining healthy, productive relationships.

Lead by example. Recognising and appreciating the work and behaviours of others is a positive leadership behaviour. We think that everyone, no matter what level of experience, can demonstrate good leadership behaviours. Encouraging and showing appreciation plays an important role in an organisational culture that values trust and connection.

As we start a new year, it’s an opportunity to think about the people we are grateful for and the benefits for our professional wellbeing of expressing appreciation and the power of acts of kindness in the workplace.