by Jim Bruce
At least with my family, preparation for Thanksgiving dinner began several weeks ago as decisions were made about where we would gather and who would prepare and bring what food to share. It’s always a wonderful time to get as many family members as can come together to express our thanks for another year and for the support of each other.
Saying “Thank you” and expressing gratitude is not something that is new to the scene. Religious texts, teachings, and traditions in the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Baha’i faiths all speak of gratitude as a prized human inclination. On the societal front, Roman politician and brilliant lawyer Cicero, writing in Pro Pancio in 54 B.C., said “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of others.” Expressing gratitude has been widely done across all of society for much of our recorded history.
Some families make a point as they eat together, to take time for each individual to say what they are thankful for, perhaps some particular thing someone at the table, or for a friend, has done for them, sometimes something that had little cost but much meaning, and sometimes something that had significant cost. Or, it might be gratitude for a new job or a promotion. Or, perhaps it’s a simple thank you to someone for always being there. Just maybe, the best part of this is that it reminds us to say “Thank you!” more often.
Studies by a number of scientists have demonstrated that expressing gratitude has value both to the person expressing gratitude and to the recipient. Specifically, having gratitude as a reference point will shift your mindset. You will see whatever situation you find yourself in, in a way that can lessen panic, strengthen relationships, and reduce stress. Grateful people are typically happier, more optimistic, healthier, and less negative.
Pat Wheeler, a colleague of Marshall Goldsmith and Managing Partner of The Levin Group, a leadership advisory group, provides us with a good example of seeing a group’s mindset change in real time. She reports using a gratitude exercise, similar to that some families use, with groups who are dealing with very difficult times that are very tough on everyone.
In the exercise, she asks each participant to express out loud for all to hear appreciation to someone in the room. The first person to volunteer, usually after some silence, typically shares a bit reluctantly, then another speaks, and soon the room relaxes, people continue to share and smiles appear on everyone’s face. The exercise in no way minimizes the difficult problems that the team is facing. However, as Wheeler noted, “these simple expressions of gratitude set the tone for listening and cooperation, rather than defensiveness and contention.”
You might want to try this exercise sometime when those you lead are in a rough place and as well as when they are having difficulties working together.
As a personal approach to consistently recognizing gratitude, some individuals have a practice to take time at the end of each day to stop, and write down, several things that occurred during the day which they are thankful for. In addition, sometimes, they will write a short note to an individual to express their thanks. Just a few moments but it will make a difference, to the recipient and to you.
Happy Thanksgiving. . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Robert Emmons, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Houghton Mifflin, 2008.