Let’s just start with the basics. What is gratitude? It’s the quality of being thankful.
Every year at Thanksgiving time, messages constantly tell us how important it is to be thankful.
First, let’s acknowledge that not everyone considers Thanksgiving a time to be thankful. Just last week I talked to a Native American woman who told me she doesn’t eat at all on Thanksgiving Day because she doesn’t acknowledge it as a holiday to celebrate.
When you step back and look at the wars and the complete devastation of Native American lands, tribes, and culture, it’s understandable that not everyone views Thanksgiving Day through the same lens.
Gratitude is best served unforced.
And yet that’s what happens each November.
Thanksgiving isn’t the only time of year to have an attitude of gratitude.
Despite what you’ve heard, all year long, in every aspect of your life, gratitude pays off, especially in business. Some of the most successful business people practice gratitude every single day. Think Oprah Winfrey, Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, and even celebrities like Tina Fey and Dolly Parton.
And, as we reflect on all of the positives in our life, give thanks for the people we love, and count our many blessings we feel good. We feel good because we realize that we have SO MANY good things in our life, and we feel good because we take the time to recognize the people and things that truly make a difference for us — big or small.
I want to help you to integrate gratitude into your daily routines, into your journalling, into your workplace, into your home. You see because when we all begin to consider what makes us feel thankful, happy to be alive, and fortunate, we start to look at the good.
Not only in other people but also in ourselves. When we reflect in the morning on what we appreciate, then all of the junk that tends to weigh us down becomes a little lighter. I am grateful to wake up next to the sweetest, most caring man I’ve ever met. Each day.
Take a minute.
What do you appreciate?
Did you smile when you thought about what you appreciate?
I bet you did.
You see, your gratitude improves your attitude.
Towards yourself and others. Gratitude is knotted deeply to abundance.
If you are thankful for what has happened in the past, you are more likely to think the future will be good. And then you will begin to see more opportunities.
Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Being grateful gives you a fighting chance.
Gratitude begets more gratitude.
There’s a massive multiplier effect.
You begin to see it everywhere. I’m reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
It’s hard to be angry or jealous when you’re grateful. Gratitude is a form of love.
Why Finding Gratitude Starts with Letting Go
Surrender. According to Merriam-Webster, it means “to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand,” “to give oneself over to something.”
It sounds a little … unsafe.
Or at the very least, not like something you would want to do often.
Particularly as women.
And especially during the current political and societal shifts we are experiencing. Everything screams resist. Resist. Resist. Stand up for yourself. Tell people how you feel. Get what’s yours.
I’m not here to disagree with that. I am here to tell you there is a time and place for letting go.
For grace. Granting yourself kindness. To rest and be present. To surrender your mind and body to the universe and ask, “what’s next.”
And then listen for the answer.
This morning, I was reading a book that suggested the importance of letting go during the sales process. Its author posited that after you extend an offer to a potential client, you need to take a “surrendered” position while you let the person make the decision.
You do so so that you create space for the decision, but also to distance yourself from the outcome. When you genuinely believe in what you are selling, you sell without desperation or attachment to the result.
You realize you can receive an aligned “no” without feeling desperation because you know there are more people out there. And you want to work with the best-fitting clients.
You don’t need to resist.
Surrendering is what allows us to receive grace and gratitude.
I remember times when I’ve held onto things so tight. Whether it was a job I disliked or a boyfriend I kept for too long … this resistance to change kept me from receiving something better.
It prevented me from seeing the realities of my situation.
How many times do we find ourselves pushing away appreciation, pushing away positivity, because we consider letting go a weakness?
Or maybe we’ve fought for so long we don’t know any other way BESIDES the fight, besides paddling upstream.
I say we fight currents we have to fight. But sometimes. Sometimes. We need to rest and go with the flow.
Surrender. Open your heart and receive gratitude for all of the goodness you bring to the world.
How to Get Started with Gratitude
So you might be wondering, how can you get started? There are a couple of different strategies available to you.
One, you can start a gratitude journal. If you already have a diary, it’s as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for every morning, and three things you’re thankful for every night. Then you’re constantly reinforcing gratitude as a part of your daily life.
If that’s too much for you, then another way to begin is to verbally share three things you’re grateful for each day with a spouse or a friend. Oh, and each day needs to be something different.
It’s an accumulative process. Each day builds on the last. Over time, you begin to see not only the big things like having a roof over your head, but you also start to see the small stuff like dew on the grass, or the faint hint of purple as the leaves change each autumn.
Another strategy you can employ is creating a gratitude jar.
So what do you need for a gratitude jar? Well, an empty jar or box, ribbon, paper for notes, creativity, and gratitude.
Creating a gratitude jar and placing it in a prominent place is an easy way to remind yourself and others to show gratitude. When something good happens, write a note and stick it in the jar. When you have a bad day, or the jar fills, read the notes and be showered with your keen observations.
I suggest doing some appreciation reflections first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day. It’s so hard to be upset about the rest of the night or day when you reflect on kindness.
It all starts with you. And your diligence. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But good habits will change your life. Fast.
Before you can even think about incorporating this into your leadership, you need to start by focusing on yourself. Develop some self-awareness around how much gratitude you share and how much grace you have for yourself and others.
Become aware of whether you’re armored up to resist or letting go (surrendering) enough to receive kindness, feedback, and grace. When you’re ready, there are some pretty cool results you and your organization reaps when you incorporate gratitude into your leadership style.
How to Incorporate Gratitude into Your Leadership Style
When you interact with others in the office, in your life, or even as a business owner, you’ll quickly learn expressing gratitude can be a game-changer.
Showing someone gratitude with a simple “thank you” is something most people learn as children.
But now that you’re an adult how often do you take the time to show gratitude to your significant other to your friends? What about professional contacts and colleagues? There’s a growing body of research to indicate that appreciation is more than a positive emotion. It improves your health and possibly the health of others.
Have you ever worked someplace or with someone where you’re not valued? Or maybe you are appreciated, but no one bothers to tell you in a meaningful way? Where your skills go unrecognized? Where your opinions fall on deaf ears?
I worked someplace that had all kinds of parties and celebrations.
It was fun, but the overall environment was negative, and leaders ignored individual talents and contributions. The daily workplace environment lacked gratitude; therefore, the parties felt empty and lacked meaning. It was more like forced socialization.
Gratitude is so much more meaningful than a party. Gratitude gets you out of your own head so you can see all the positives surrounding you. It also has the same effect on the people you lead. As Mark Goulston writes, “study after study has shown that no one is immune from the motivating effects of acknowledgment and thanks.”
Research by Adam Grant and Francesca Gino has shown that saying thank you not only results in a reciprocal generosity where the thanked person is more likely to help the thinker but stimulates prosocial behavior in general. In other words, saying thanks increases the likelihood your employee/client/colleague will not only help you but help somebody else.
Gratitude makes us all better. How we treat people matters.
It sounds so simple but how often do you tell the people around you how thankful you are for everything they do? In fact how we treat people when the chips are down may be even more important especially if you have a small team or a tight budget.
People are more likely to run into the fire with you if you can see the good and thank people for it. If that’s not enough for you, here are three ways gratitude makes you a better leader:
1. Gratitude breeds success.
Your success greatly depends on the collaboration with other people. Even if you’re a solo prisoner or just in the workplace saying thank you and sharing success is attractive. As Erica Anderson writes, “If you want to attract people like a moth to a light show gratitude for others.”
People love being around someone with a positive vision for life’s possibilities.
2. Gratitude brings peace.
I challenge you to be angry and grateful at the same time. Give it a try. You can’t have both. When you shift how you view the world to a grateful mindset, it brings you peace and drives away volatility.
3. Gratitude opens doors.
When you lead with gratitude, you see opportunities (and solutions) everywhere because you are choosing to see the good with the bad and focus on the good rather than the bad.
Recognition and appreciation are especially critical when you’ve failed.
Want to stay bogged down? Focus on the failure. Rehash it.
If you want to move on from failure, focus on the opportunities that grew out of the experience. Focus on what went right and how to readjust your thinking and approach. Thank people for working hard even though the outcome wasn’t what you expected. Today’s failure might be tomorrow’s success.
Let’s face it. If you have electricity, water, and an Internet connection, you have a lot of reasons to be grateful. So think about how you treat others (and yourself) when life isn’t perfect. Stop beating yourself up. Look at what went right, who to thank, and how to move forward.
If you want to build trust and reap the Pay It Forward benefits discussed earlier — show gratitude.
As leaders, we need to avoid zero-sum games and black and white thinking. The world isn’t all or nothing. We live in an annoying array of greys. When we appreciate and support people, we help others see what’s great; you’re encouraging others to be hopeful and more successful. Consistency is the key.
When you show consistent appreciation for people, you are more likely to have people stand behind you when you have to make the tough decisions.
How does gratitude help you?
Jen McFarland is a business owner, business advisor, podcaster, blogger, and project turnaround artist. She’s helped hundreds of businesses and thousands of podcast listeners make better business decisions. Jen’s passion is helping women business owners overcome leadership and technology struggles.