It’s the 4th Thursday of November and the United States of America celebrates ‘Thanksgiving Day’. Originally traced to a celebration for good harvest at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts in the year 1621
Interesting, for Thanksgiving week since 1950, the S&P 500 index has moved higher 68.18% of the time, averaging a gain of 0.71%. The bulk of the gains came during the two days that bookended the holiday Thursday. Advances on the Wednesday and Friday were recorded 77% and 72.7 % of the time, respectively, averaging gains each day around 0.35%. Thus, for financial investors, it has been Happy Thanksgiving indeed!
While Thanksgiving in the U.S. is celebrated with sports events, family dinners, and time off from work, its real purpose is to reflect on everything that we have to be thankful for — such as health, family, material possessions, and general success. It’s also a good reminder that “thankfulness” and “appreciation” are important managerial behaviors in effective organizations, especially if practiced throughout the year.
Gratitude is currently one of the hottest topics in positive emotion research. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fundraisers into two groups.
- One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had.
- The second group — assigned to work on a different day — started their shift with a message from the director of annual giving, who told the fundraisers she was grateful for their efforts.
During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fundraising calls than those who did not. (How often do you tell your people you appreciate them and their work?)
Thus, the reality is that all of us need some quantum of affirmation and positive feedback, at least occasionally. Without it, it’s easy to lose self-confidence (“Did I make the right call?”) or to become cynical (“Nobody cares whether I work hard or not”). More importantly, without some measure of day-to-day appreciation it’s difficult to build relationships and trust, which are essential to a well-functioning workplace.
Research has shown that gratitude generates social capital – in two studies with 243 total participants, those who were 10% more grateful than average had 17.5% more social capital
By implementing gratitude into company culture, employees are more willing to spread their positive feelings with others, whether it’s helping out with a project or taking time to notice and recognizing those that have gone the extra mile.
Scientifically speaking, there are specific areas of the brain that are activated by the feeling of gratitude.
The hypothalamus, which controls basic bodily functions such as eating and sleeping, and dopamine, the “reward neurotransmitter” are heavily affected from feelings of gratitude.
Dr. Alex Korb writes, “Gratitude can have such a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle. “When we take the time to ask what we are grateful for, certain neural circuits are activated. Production of dopamine and serotonin increases, and these neurotransmitters then travel neural pathways to the “bliss” center of the brain — similar to the mechanisms of many antidepressants.
The more you stimulate these neural pathways through practicing gratitude, the stronger and more automatic they become. On a scientific level, this is an example of Hebb’s Law, which states “neurons that fire together wire together.”
Lets’ take an analogy from real life.
If you’re forging a new path through the woods, the first trip is the most challenging and you have to be deliberate. But the more times the path is traveled, the more defined it becomes and the easier it is to follow it.
Your brain works the same way: The more times a certain neural pathway is activated (neurons firing together), the less effort it takes to stimulate the pathway the next time (neurons wiring together).Because of this, what we put our attention on grows.
- If we’re constantly looking at the negative and searching for problems, the neural pathways for negative thinking become stronger.
- If we shift our attention to look for what is going right instead of looking for problems to solve; over time, this encourages our brains to more consistently search for the constructive themes in our life instead of the destructive ones, helping us water the flowers instead of watering the weeds.
- Take it from Oprah, who says that starting a gratitude journal and writing down five things a day for which she’s grateful has been the single most powerful decision she’s ever made.
A five-minute a day gratitude journal can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10%. This is the same impact as doubling your income! Sure, having more money can be pretty awesome, but because of hedonic adaptation we quickly get used to it and stop having as much fun and happiness as we did at first.
Build a “thanks step” into your project plans.“Thank you” doesn’t cost a dime, and it has measurably beneficial effects. A 2012 research study by Bersin & Associates shows that organizations in which top leaders engage frequently in employee recognition are 12 times more likely to generate strong business results. It can be expressed informally through common courtesy and appreciative interactions in a collaborative environment; or formally through employee recognition programs.
Appreciating how effectively your organization solves problems and gets things done. Many managers have a tendency to focus on the things that are not working well, the shortfalls and the misses. Instead, by identifying the vignettes and shining a spotlight on them, managers can help to tease out important lessons, reinforce innovation, and unlock tremendous value. Ideally, it is a tool “to transform an obstacle into an opportunity,” and reframe a loss as a potential gain.
What do you think?
Are there any thoughts and feelings that hinder your ability to be grateful?
What elicits the most gratitude in your life?
How does gratitude enhance your leadership skills?
What are the most common misconceptions that lead people to misuse the notion of gratitude to justify mediocrity?
Is there an employee recognition program at your workplace? Is the said program truly based on merit? How do employees feel after they get those recognitions?
Gratitude creates good feelings, cheerful memories, better self-esteem, feeling more relaxed and more optimistic. All of these emotions creates a pay it forward and “we’re in this together” mentality in the workplace, which in turn, makes your organization more successful. Plus, the dopamine effect will encourage a continuous cycle of recognition if everyone participates.
My advice? Give gratitude a shot.
If you’re skeptical, do it anyway. If your reaction as you’re reading this is, “This is so not for me,” do it as an experiment.
Gratitude is a skill and a habit that anyone can learn—from which everyone will benefit.
Try incorporating gratitude into your life and see how it unfolds.