Saying thank you is never a small deal. It’s enormously rewarding to the human brain. It validates what’s happened between us, whether a business transaction, an exchange of gifts or a delicious dinner shared with friends. It acknowledges and recognises our actions.
It matters because a lack of gratitude can cost far more than our happiness. When a kind gesture is overlooked, your brain goes into threat mode. Think back to a time when a gift or letter of thanks went unacknowledged. How did this change how you felt about the recipient? Was there a shift in the relationship, a lowering of trust or interest in the other person?
Do the practice
If expressing your gratitude feels awkward, or you’re a bit out of practice, take five minutes to practise showing your appreciation. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, suggests we spend five minutes every day writing and sending a letter of gratitude.
Keeping a journal is an easy way to create a habit of gratitude. Take the time to record three to five things you are grateful for in any given 24-hour period, and note why. Committing your thoughts to paper enables your brain to process those thoughts, embedding a neural pattern of gratitude that over time becomes a default pathway and stops you from getting bogged down in less helpful thoughts of negativity, worry and fear.
Positive psychology expert Shawn Achor suggests that journalling for 21 days can lead to six months of greater optimism and that if you’re not writing it down, even making a mental note can be helpful. It’s the simple shifts that make a difference. Like choosing to stop replying ‘Not bad’ when asked by a friend how you are, because the implication is you’re not that great either. Changing your response to ‘Well, thank you’ will shift your mental circuitry towards feeling better about yourself and promote a more positive outlook. Being more grateful and more vital elevates happiness and success because you enjoy more satisfying relationships, experience less stress and live a more fulfilling and meaningful life. What a wonderful ROI!
Make it personal
Mandy, a participant in one of my workshops, shared her story of how gratitude had a huge impact on her. She had been with her company for around six months and involved in a big innovation project that had been enormously challenging for everyone involved. When a particularly large hurdle threatened to derail everything, it was Mandy the newbie who stepped up to help resolve it.
She didn’t expect to be singled out following the successful outcome. Still, the hand-written card from the CEO expressing their appreciation didn’t just make her day; she felt genuinely valued as a member of the team and grateful to be working for such a wonderful organisation. We typically underestimate the impact of a small gesture of personal thanks on both giver and receiver. It boosts the happiness and wellbeing of both and motivates the recipient to work harder.
Which is why stepping away from an offhand ‘Thanks guys’ and instead delivering a personalised, hand-written note, video or face-to-face conversation is what is remembered and treasured. If you’ve ever found yourself buckling under the weight of the hundreds of emails that flood your inbox or despairing under the pressure of meeting yet another unrealistic deadline, you’ll know just how easy it is to forget or overlook these small expressions of gratitude. Taking that five minutes, despite everything else happening in your day, matters. As Brother David Steindl-Rast says, ‘In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.’
It’s time to take back control of our lives, health and happiness, starting with gratitude, because as Robin S. Sharma, author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, reminds us, ‘Gratitude drives happiness. Happiness boosts productivity. Productivity reveals mastery. Mastery inspires the world’.
Edited extract from Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) by Dr. Jenny Brockis. Have you read?
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