Photo credit: Shannon | Flickr
[Updated: 22 December 2015]
By ROSHAN THIRAN
The gratitude challenge
“Most people return small favours, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones with ingratitude.”
– Benjamin Franklin
A study which began in 1986, of a group of nuns from the city of Mankato in the US, who have outlived many others, has astonished the world. The most surprising result of this ‘Nuns of Mankato Study’ by David Snowdon, is the discovery that the way we express ourselves in language, even at an early age, can foretell how long we’ll live and how vulnerable we’ll be to Alzheimer’s decades down the line. Snowdon found that the nuns who had expressed the most positive and gratitude-based emotions in their writing as girls ended up living longest, and that those on the road to Alzheimer’s expressed less gratitude and fewer positive emotions. His conclusion: If you want to live longer, be positive and show gratitude.
Throughout history, gratitude has always been high on the list of virtues. Cicero, the Roman philosopher ranked gratitude as the chief of all virtues, parent to all others. I concur with Cicero and apparently science does so too.
Research by Jeffrey Froh, shows that habitually grateful people have more energy, optimism, social connections and happiness. They’re less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or become alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have stronger immune systems.
Science can now prove that gratitude improves psychological, emotional and physical well-being. “A lot of these findings are things we learned in kindergarten or our grandmothers told us, but we now have scientific evidence to prove them,” Froh adds. If gratitude does all that, why is there absolutely no focus on it in business or in our lives?
A few weeks ago, we erected a ‘Gratitude Board’ in our office, and some began excitedly posting messages of gratitude to others. Others scoffed at the board, shaking their heads at why others were posting soft mumbo-jumbo messages. And again, I wondered, since gratitude is scientifically proven to make employees more productive, why do people scoff at its usefulness and its place in business?
What is gratitude?
Gratitude means counting your blessings, being thankful, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It is living your life as if everything were a miracle, being aware incessantly of how you have been blessed by others. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the richness that is already present.
As simple as it sounds, gratitude is actually a multifaceted emotion that requires “self-reflection, the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and the humility to realize one’s own limitations,” claims Emmons, another gratitude researcher. Gratitude is not for the “intellectually lethargic.” Emmons postulates that gratitude is discordant with feelings of victimhood or entitlement. “Far from being a warm, fuzzy sentiment, gratitude is morally and intellectually demanding. It requires contemplation, reflection and discipline. It can be hard and painful work.”
Emmons, together with psychologists McCollough experiments confirms gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, creativity and energy. Additionally, grateful people are more likely to help others and faster progress toward achieving personal goals. The study revealed that practicing gratitude increases happiness levels by around 25%. If only we could improve happiness levels at workplace by 25%, we may be on to unleashing a high performing team capable of achieving great results. Aren’t these the type of people we need in our businesses?
Gratitude cures materialism
Froh’s research team found that the more grateful students had more friends and higher GPAs, while the more materialistic had lower grades, higher levels of envy and less satisfaction with life. “One of the best cures for materialism is to make somebody grateful for what they have,” adds Froh.
Founder of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, one of the richest men on earth, ascribes part of his success to his grateful nature. He has frequently expressed his gratitude for having been born at the right time and place and for the wealth that he has been able to create. Even though he is rich, he has not an ounce of materialism in him, and he shows his gratitude by giving back his accumulated wealth to society.
Gratitude brings happiness
A few years ago, as part of our Talent Acceleration programme, we took a group of Malakoff high-potential talent to visit the LaFarge factory and to meet their CEO, Biyong Chungunco. Biyong, is an incredible leader, who is well-loved by her employees. As she spoke to our team, she showed extreme humility and gratefulness in every aspect of her life, in spite of having so many obstacles thrown her way. Having lost her husband and having to face tremendous issues being a woman in a male dominated industry, her positivity drove her to succeed against the odds.
Listening to her reinforced my belief that if we are to reach happiness (which is the goal for many people), gratitude needs to be a core virtue we practice. We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognising and appreciating what we do have.
Being grateful also forces people to overcome what psychologists call the “negativity bias”—the predisposition to dwell on difficulties, frustrations and inequalities rather than positive blessings. One time, I interviewed Marshall Goldsmith, a top business coach for The Leaderonomics Show. Throughout the interview, Marshall kept repeating his gratefulness of how good things happened to him ‘by accident’. Being grateful keeps him positive and when you are in a positive frame, positive things tend to happen.
Watch my interview with Marshall Goldsmith:
The Law of Attraction states that if you are in a negative frame, you tend to attract negativity. So if you are in a traffic jam and you become negative, the traffic jam becomes worse. However, even if you are in a bad situation and you are positive, generally more optimistic things tend to ‘accidently’ happen, as Marshall clarifies.
Gratitude as a business strategy
Business leaders may understand the importance of gratitude but how does being grateful add to their numbers. We have already seen how gratitude drives employee productivity , increases workplace happiness and energy-levels. And now we are finding that gratitude also helps expand ‘wallet-share’.
Numerous businesses have actual grown by showing gratitude to their customers. Instead of going after new customers and increasing market-share, businesses that have gone back to old clients and thanked them, and develop deep relationships, saw huge increase in profitability by expanding their current client’s ‘wallet-share’. Expanding your ‘wallet-share’ is getting your customers to buy more of your products and to buy other products that you offer which they may not be buying at this point in time.
Gratitude does not mean sending your clients a letter with a sales hook like, “To thank you for being a special customer, we’re giving you 20% of all our XXXL orange shirts from now till we make our sales quota.” People see through those insincere gratitude letters.
A business may show their appreciation by offering chocolates with the bill, or other simple thank you gestures but it needs to come across as genuine or its better not to show gratitude at all. People see through fake motivations. Gratitude is a precursor to trust and trust is a powerful driver for loyalty.
“Gratitude motivates positive reciprocal behaviour,” says Professor Raggio. If a customer believes that a business has his best interests at heart, that customer is more inclined to develop a long-term relationship with the business.
And don’t just show your gratitude once a year during festivals or at annual customer appreciation dinners. Instead, build it into your daily and weekly customer plans and policies. Customers are more likely to come back, give referrals, write positive reviews online, or perhaps be willing to pay more later on.
Author John Kralik started writing appreciation notes to his staff and clients and quickly saw a link between his thank-you notes and his business thriving again. I personally write handwritten thank you notes and many have kept those notes for years, using them to gain inspiration. It’s when you feel terrible, that it is the best time to write 10 thank-you notes.
When employees notice that you thank them for their efforts, they will naturally work even harder to please you in the future. Recognising the work of an employee improves their performance. And a sincere compliment will always improve your workplace connections and satisfaction.
Dale Carnegie believed that the desire to be appreciated is ‘a gnawing and unfaltering human hunger.” Think about your many contributions to the people around you. Do you get thanked enough? Does the gratitude-to-criticism ratio you experience feel right to you? You can change the ratio by acknowledging those who help you daily, from the barista who made your coffee to your employee that got you the report on time.
Gratitude can change people’s lives but it takes mental toughness and discipline. Here is my top-10 gratitude checklist for you to become a more grateful person:
- Set-up a Gratitude Board in your office and home and watch gratefulness flow in your office and home
- Keep a Gratitude Journal. Count your daily blessings and jot down at least 3 good things that happened to you each day. You will be surprised how blessed you are even after a week
- Mind Your Language. Don’t use negative words, even when talking to yourself.
- Pause deliberately throughout the day. Stop what you are doing and look for things to be grateful for. You will start seeing blessings everywhere
- Write a gratitude letters to people who have exerted positive influence in your life
- Have a monthly ‘Gratitude Visit’ to someone you have been grateful for in the past and personally thank them
- Make a vow to practice gratitude. Psychologists believes that “swearing a vow to perform a behaviour actually increases the likelihood that the action will be executed.”
- Don’t Count Sheep but instead Count Your Blessings as you fall asleep – review events and people you are grateful for during the day as you fall asleep on your bed.
- Write a note of gratitude to your customers. Don’t put anything else on the agenda other than expressing your thanks and appreciation.
- Put gratitude on your calendar – schedule time to send thank you notes to clients, employees and to say thank you to your family and friends.
In spite of knowing gratitude is good, everyone, from business leader to student, suffer from Gratitude Deficit Disorder. We all receive much more condemnation than gratitude. We are hungry for genuine appreciation. We want to know that we matter, that our efforts are making the world a better place. Mother Teresa once said that “there is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.” She is right.
And your customers, suppliers, employees, co-workers, friends and family need gratitude. There is a global hunger for gratitude. Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. So, instead of being world-class complainers, why not challenge yourself to start off Monday by showing your gratitude to your employees, customers, friends and family. You may just end up living as long as those nuns of Mankato.
Click to watch the corresponding “Be a Leader” video based on this article.