Originally Published Dec. 20, 2020.
The world continues turning even amongst the chaos, and for that alone, I am grateful.
It’s not so surprising that most of us are dog-tired at this point. The past few years have been absolutely monumental. There was an entire global health crisis, civil and racial injustice was magnified here in the US, and we’re currently navigating a familiar world restructured by circumstance. Those things alone on top of our everyday fires is admittedly a lot.
“I’m tired of living through historical moments!” I’ve heard people say it over and over the past few years. I understand the sentiment, but even living through these moments in history that feel a little warped by science fiction, I have to say I’m still glad I’m living.
Now is the most crucial time to be living with an “attitude for gratitude.”
If we continue to focus on the things that aren’t going our way, the honking and hollering right outside of our windows, the constant distractions pulling at our lives, we will be miserable. There’s no doubt about that. We won’t get anything done. We will throw the baby out with the bath water, except this time we’re the baby!
Today is not ruined because yesterday didn’t go as planned.That’s exactly why practicing gratitude is critical. Gratitude helps us understand that our life is a gift worth investing in every day.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
I recall dozens of times during my time as Co-CEO at Primerica when I felt consumed by stress and anxiety. During these times, I had to force myself to practice gratitude. I had to be grateful for where I was. Past me would have been kicking the present me in the butt if he knew I was even as much as considering taking that opportunity for granted.
I won’t pretend like practicing gratitude at every step of the way is easy because it isn’t. There will be times when you need to buy streamers and a piñata for the pity party, but then you have to come back to reality and regroup.
The more I made an effort to practice gratitude, the better I became at it. Even the small things I would have typically let go unnoticed, I tried to acknowledge how grateful I was for their belonging, even if just to myself.
Over time I began to feel a greater sense of optimism. Coincidence? According to the science of gratitude, no!
I’m not making it up; there has been plenty of research on how gratitude helps your outlook, allowing you to accept, utilize, and appreciate more of your daily life.
Gratitude Helps Your Mental Health
After long periods of uncertainty, confusion, and frustration, you might literally be experiencing some toxic thoughts and feelings.
Leading gratitude researcher Dr. Robert A. Emmons shares that gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, including resentment, envy, frustration, and regret.
Having a bad day? Try to choose one thing, even something as small as the cup of coffee you’re drinking or the warm sweater you’re wearing to be grateful for. Small things compounded over time make a world of difference when it comes to being appreciative for the life you have.
Gratitude Helps Your Physical Health
Have you been feeling stiff and achy lately? Set down that bottle of Advil and pick up an attitude of gratitude!
According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, people who show gratitude have fewer aches and pains than their counterparts. Aside from that, grateful individuals report feeling healthier across the board too.
This isn’t surprising as the grateful folks are also more likely to be mindful of their health. They make exercising a greater priority and see the doctor regularly, which contributes to increased health and longevity.
Gratitude Improves Your Sense of Empathy
Folks who live with an attitude of gratitude are more likely to show kindness, even when others act negatively. Research by the University of Kentucky shared that study participants who scored higher in showing gratitude were less likely to react vengefully, even when they received negative feedback.
In life and especially in leadership, you’re going to experience loads of negative feedback from people who want to see you fail. In these moments, you gotta hold your head up high and take the high road. A true leader doesn’t have the time or even see the need to retaliate.
Gratitude Can Improve Your Sleep
A study conducted by Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep. Gratitude expert Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, asked individuals with neuromuscular disorders to make a gratitude list each night listing things that they were grateful for. After three weeks of journaling, these same folks reported sleeping longer and more restfully.
Even if you’re just jotting a few things on a Post-It note each night before bed, you could reap major benefits from trying this out!
Gratitude Can Open The Door To New Relationships
If you’re looking to make new friends, a simple “thank you” to an acquaintance could make a bigger impact than you’d expect, according to a 2014 study.
This study showed the benefits of individuals practicing gratitude in society. The subjects of the study were university students who had believed they were mentoring high school students.
The university students were asked to provide feedback on the high school students’ college admissions essays. Once the college students had finished reviewing the essays, the high school students responded with thank you cards. About half of the thank you notes included the explicit statement of gratitude, “Thank you SO much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!”
The university students who received the sentiments of gratitude were more likely to provide their contact information to the high school students who were explicitly grateful, thus opening the door to a prospective friendship.
The same goes for leadership. Throughout my career and beyond I’ve learned that people want to work with people who they like and could see themselves being friends with. You’d be surprised by the number of times a genuine “thank you” or a pat on the back and a kind word helped me foster meaningful relationships both in and out of the business world.
Gratitude Strengthens Mental Fortitude
Coming to terms with and overcoming trauma requires incredibly hard work, a strong support system, and y’all guessed it – gratitude. A study from Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam veterans with higher levels of gratitude had lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Another study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discovered that practicing gratitude was also a significant contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Now, I know I’m no psychologist, but if something as seemingly easy as practicing gratitude can help heal trauma, why not at least give it a try?
Start Practicing Gratitude Today
The chaos doesn’t stop, it just wears new hats and shows up with a different name. At least, that’s what it feels like these days. Regardless of what hurdles present themselves in your life, it’s important that we don’t view them as the end of the world but as an opportunity to navigate a new experience.
Lord knows it isn’t easy, but whether you’re working to lead a Fortune 500 company, keep your small business afloat, or be a rock for the people in your life, practicing gratitude and counting your blessings can help you find the peace and appreciation you need to survive and thrive today and everyday beyond.
Gratitude is an asset of many leaders. Do you think your leadership superpower is gratitude? Take my Leadership Superpower Quiz and find out!