What We Learned About Gratitude: "Nya:wëh sgë:nö’" … “Thanks for being”

We gathered on February 22 for A Human Workplace Olympia to talk about “Gratitude All Year Long.” Gratitude is universal – words of thanks are present in every language and many cultures have rituals, symbols, practices, and celebrations to express their thanks, appreciation and gratitude.  In some cultures, an expression of gratitude is an acknowledgement of a person’s very existence and a wish for their well-being.  For example, in the Seneca Nation, “nya weh sgeno” translates to thank you for being or I am thankful you are well. 

On February 22nd, we explored expressions of gratitude and how gratitude allows us to be present in the world and acknowledge others’ presence in the world. Ultimately, to be grateful is to be mindful.  Being grateful requires paying attention and noticing what is happening in the present moment. 

We began this session by acknowledging that the meeting was taking place on the traditional land of the Nisqually people.  Then, we introduced ourselves to each other and shared one thing we are grateful for – family, health, and nature were common themes.  One person expressed her gratitude for the existence of coffee and many around the room could relate to this!  We also talked about how gratitude is expressed cross-culturally noting that there are many beautiful expressions of gratitude around the world. 

What is gratitude?

We talked about some of the research on gratitude.  Robert Emmons, PhD, the most pre-eminent researcher on gratitude says that there are two components of gratitude.  It is an affirmation of goodness in the world and in our lives.  The second part of gratitude is recognizing that this goodness comes from outside ourselves.  The research on gratitude is very clear that gratitude is good for us!  It can also be cultivated through practice.  This short video from the Templeton Foundation lays out the many benefits of gratitude, including reduced anxiety and depression, better sleep, and increasing both optimism and resilience. 

 The Greater Good Science Center and UC Berkley provides an overview of the what and why gratitude

Gratitude practices

There are numerous ways to practice gratitude.  We tried out two of them.  First, everyone wrote down ten things they are grateful for.  This is known as gratitude journaling.  Writing down three things you are grateful for 21 days has been demonstrated to increase optimism!  It is also a great way to reflect on your day and if you share what you’re grateful for with others, it’s a way of connecting with them.

We also wrote a gratitude letter.  This practice involves thinking about someone at work who has done something that we appreciated but had never thanked them for and writing them a thank you letter.    The act of writing the letter is beneficial in and of itself, but the real benefit comes from delivering the letter (in person!) to its intended recipient.  Check out Dr. Emmon’s article on 10 ways to become more grateful. 

To those who were with us on the 22nd, don’t forget follow up on delivering your gratitude letter!

Gratitude at work

There are also specific ways that gratitude can be practiced and cultivated at work.  Shawn Achor, PhD, CEO at GoodThink and happiness researcher, suggests starting meetings by saying:

•       one thing you are personally grateful for,

•       one thing you are grateful for about the team, and

•       something you are grateful for about one member of the team.

In a different approach, a company called Lucidchart created a gratitude org chart that contains a note of thanks for every single employee from their manager.  Karl Sun, the founder and CEO at Lucid describes this and other ways to cultivate gratitude at work in this article.

Many of the practices described in Sun’s article are free or low-cost, easy, and they make a difference!  When employees are thanked by their supervisor, they experience a stronger sense of self-worth and self-efficacy.  Gratitude at work also increases trust and the likelihood that people will help each other out.

You too can practice gratitude!  The beauty of gratitude is that it benefits everyone involved.  Those who express gratitude feel good and so do those who receive it.  Who are you going to thank?  Can you take two minutes right now to express gratitude to a coworker?

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