Work contributes significantly to mental health. Based on everything from assignments and responsibilities to relationships with leaders and colleagues, work makes a difference in how people feel physically, cognitively and emotionally.
You can enhance your own mental health and your company can play a role as well by ensuring you have a sense of purpose, performing as well as you can and seeking opportunities for growth. But another way to nurture and sustain mental health is through something unexpected: gratitude.
You can foster gratitude for yourself, and organizations can cultivate cultures of gratitude—and these will have positive effects for people as well as for business.
Gratitude can be defined broadly in a few different ways. You can think of it as an overall attitude of appreciation or a way of being—a focus on what’s positive in life. Gratitude is also an emotion—when you feel thankful for a situation or toward someone for something they’ve done, for example. And gratitude is an expression as well—when you demonstrate your attitude or your feeling through actions and the things you say or do.
Good for Business
Perhaps surprisingly, gratitude makes a difference in the metrics that matter most in business. For example, companies that were intentional about expressions of appreciation found employees were 134% more willing to stay with their company than leave for a 10% raise. In addition, companies with this focus saw a 186% increase in employee net promoter scores (a measure of employees’ satisfaction and loyalty). All of these were based on a study of about 100,000 employees conducted by Motivosity.
Great for Mental Health
But beyond business benefits, there are also powerful effects on mental health—in multiple ways and for many reasons which have been demonstrated by science.
#1 – Gratitude Connects You with Others
A study published in the Review of Communication found gratitude has a positive impact on mental and emotional states and on physical health as well. And it tended to predict pro-social behaviors like helping others.
In the Motivosity study, when people worked in a gratitude-centric environment, they reported an increase of 102% in positive workplace relationships—this was as they were surveyed over five years. In addition, when people heard someone express appreciation, they were more likely to conclude they could seek a relationship or friendship with the person, based on a study at the University of New South Whales.
Feeling regard and recognition toward others tends to drive greater emotional closeness and reduce loneliness. And people tend to feel more positively about themselves as well. They also tend to feel better about others when they receive these expressions. This is because of the positive social meanings people ascribe to gratitude.
Cultivating Gratitude: Focus on what you appreciate about others, and these openly. Go out of your way to be kind to a colleagues. Mention how much value the colleague who came up with the especially creative idea to break through the impasse or offer to take notes for a teammate who is unable to attend a meeting. Talk about how much you respect your leader’s decisiveness or your co-worker’s follow through. Make these expressions a regular habit and you will amplify the behavior to others and the culture.
#2 – Gratitude Elevates Satisfaction
When people worked in an environment where there were greater levels of gratitude, they also tended to feel more satisfied with their work. In particular, a study by Portland State University found when people were thanked more at work, they reported having fewer headaches, better quality sleep and healthier eating habits. They also said they felt more satisfied with their jobs.
You can think of gratitude in the workplace as an emotional economy. When people feel recognized and acknowledged, they tend to feel greater levels of job satisfaction which drives more engagement and more likelihood to reciprocate. This affects the whole culture.
Cultivating Gratitude: Of course, work is rarely without stress or difficulty. One of the best ways to foster gratitude is to welcome challenges. Learning and stretch experiences are positively correlated with happiness, and problems are terrific opportunities to learn—about customers, the business, the market and your own capabilities. When you face a problem, find something to appreciate about it—even if it’s lessons about what not to do or how to do things differently in the future.
#3 – Gratitude Reduces Impatience
Stress is often associated with hustle culture and an over-emphasis on rushing, hurrying and packing as many things as possible into too-little time each week. All of this can exacerbate mental health challenges. But gratitude can reduce impatience and enhance a sense of calm and presence. A study published in Psychological Science found when people focused an attitude of appreciation, they were more able to demonstrate patience and feel a sense of calm.
Cultivating Gratitude: Being present can nurture a sense of gratitude. Tune into the sounds of nature or the positive buzz of the office—or pay attention to your own thoughts or creativity. Slow down, take a breath and be mindful of your circumstances—and focus on what’s working.
In addition, reduce impatience by being selective about how you spend your time. If you feel harried because you’re spread too thin, empower yourself to say no and be intentional about where and with whom you spend your time.
Remind yourself about all you’re contributing through your work, how your work matters and how important you are to your team. And enjoy time outside of work as well. Decide to appreciate all the moments—work and otherwise—which make up a full life.
#4 – Gratitude Increases Happiness
Studies at the University of Montana found when people expressed more gratitude they tended to also report greater levels of happiness. This was significantly based on the way the attitude affected human relationships as well as how it set the tone for people’s days.
Cultivating Gratitude: Establish routines to honor the positive. For example, when you wake up or when you go to sleep, recount three ways you’re grateful. Or keep a journal. Research at Kent State University found when you write positive elements or experiences, the routine tends to foster happiness and wellbeing.
In another experiment at University of Central Florida study participants spent two weeks during which they took a few minutes a day jotting down the things, people and events that were worthwhile parts of their day. During that time, their coworkers reported that they engaged in fewer rude, gossiping, and ostracizing behaviors.
The reason journals and reflection work are because they cause you to slow down, pause and reinforce your positive experiences—and contribute to a culture which tends to be more thankful.
#5 – Gratitude Expands Horizons
Depression is often characterized by feelings of closing in or closing down. People may feel trapped and overly emphasize their own negative feelings, losing a broader perspective. Gratitude tends to focus people more broadly—expanding viewpoints to others and to circumstances. In addition, when thoughts are more hopeful, feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are released in greater quantities.
Cultivating Gratitude: Focus on what you’re grateful for—even the smallest things. The smile of a co-worker or the driver who let you into traffic during your commute are fair game. Or consider the new task you have to accomplish and how it will provide the opportunity to get to know co-workers in other departments. Reflect on the customer issue you’re facing which will demand you to be creative and resilient. Any of these can be moments to focus on optimism about how you’ll get through things—expanding your viewpoints.
People’s emotions tend to spillover onto others, so your influence is more significant than you might realize. When you’re hopeful or engaged, you contribute to a culture which creates positive experiences for others as well.
The Power of Gratitude
The power of gratitude is both large and small—small because it doesn’t take much more than a decision to be intentional and because you can be grateful for small things. And large because it has such a significant impact on mental health—both within your work and in life.
Join the Conversation: In what ways has gratitude affected your work experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments section of this article or via this LinkedIn post.
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