November 20, 2017 • 7 minute read • by Saeed
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
In 2015, UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb made the case in the Upward Spiral, that happiness and depression aren’t as hardwired as you may think. And he has the science to prove it.
The concept is simple but powerful: Little things you do habitually can create an upward spiral of positive feelings in the brain.
Gratitude in the Brain…
Your brain is awash with chemicals. In this cesspool, of 86 billion neurons, dopamine is a standout rock start. Dopamine is your feel good neurotransmitter. It’s your pleasure pathway. It’s love, it’s motivation and it’s addiction to chocolate. Low dopamine levels can lead to lack of motivation, fatigue, addictive behavior, mood swings and memory loss. High dopamine levels increase motivation, productivity, and focus. I know what you’re asking. Where can I get some?
That’s where the upward spiral comes in. You see, the benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system. Feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable.
The genius of the brain is that everything is interconnected. This is how gratitude is the gateway drug to a more fulfilled work-life.
Gratitude improves sleep.
Sleep reduces pain.
Reduced pain improves your mood.
Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning.
Focus and planning help with decision making.
Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment.
Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going.
Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.
Gratitude in the Workplace…
There is a bottom line to workplace satisfaction and engagement: People want to know that their efforts are of value and that they are appreciated. Take for example a recent Harvard Medical School study that demonstrated university of two random groups tasked soliciting alumni donations. The employees who heard a positive and encouraging message from the director of annual giving made 50% more fundraising calls than those who did not.
Companies are beginning to see the light. Southwest Airlines has woven gratitude and appreciation into their workplace culture by celebrating events in employees personal lives with small gestures of flowers and cards. More and more companies are not only seeing the benefits of a culture of appreciation and an attitude of gratitude, but they are also beginning to see the benefits of building emotionally intelligent and empathic workplaces where employees practice compassion and forgiveness.
There are also social impact benefits. Studies have shown that employees who receive more gratitude become better organizational stewards (by welcoming new employees and selflessly helping others) and they also become concerned with more social responsibility.
Here are a few easy ways to weave gratitude into your workplace culture:
1. Create a Wall of Appreciation. Make it genuine. Make it stick – literally to a wall. Use post it notes or the office white board, or whatever other creative thing you can think of to write up a public acknowledgement of appreciation for your office mates.
2. Create a Jar of Gratitude. Put a little jam jar on your conference table or a bowl or whatever container suits your fancy and your office culture and drop in daily or weekly notes of gratitude for each other. People don’t have to move mountains to feel a little gratitude. A smile, a lending hand, an idea that helped you make that presentation look a little better – all these things are little gestures of kindness and support from your colleagues that deserve acknowledgement.
3. Be a gratitude journal-ist. In a recent post I wrote about journaling as the most powerful self-improvement strategy ever. Start your day by taking a couple of minutes to reflect on three good things in your life or end it by identifying three things that happened during the day for which you are grateful. This will help build your gratitude muscle and deliver a good daily dose of dopamine to sustain your happiness. Practice wanting what you already have.
4. Just say ‘Thanks’. Here is the easiest way of all. Just walk up to someone and thank them for something they did. Again, it doesn’t have to be earth shattering or life changing. The most important thing is to make it a habit and not just dish it out to the people you like. Stretch yourself. Go out of your comfort zone and thank that annoying dude clipping his nails in the next cubicle over for something he did. You may see him light up. You may be surprised at the results.
A final word…
In its practice, you will find that gratitude results in many benefits to you, your colleagues and the organization including the opportunity to increase goodwill and citizenship behavior. In doing so, you will notice that your workplace will slowly become more values driven. Values are an incredibly important component of individual and organizational lives and directly related to success and failure. Values are in your DNA. In general, we perpetuate our parents’ values and our culture’s values and our community’s values. People gravitate towards others who share their values and a pernicious clash of values drives prejudice in societies and communities. People are attracted to organizations where the culture (set by those at the top) is the same as their values. When it is, engagement and retention holds strong.
When was the last time you were recognized at your job? When was the last time you recognized someone else?
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Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.