Gratitude in the Workplace: Research-based Tools to Increase Happiness and Engagement

The research-based benefits of gratitude in the workplace, and outside of it, are nearly endless. According to this 2015 workforce study, organizations that apply values-based recognition practices experience lower turnover, higher employee engagement, improved team relationships and a more ‘human’ workplace culture.

According to other research, there are many additional benefits individuals and organizations typically experience as a result of practicing gratitude:

  • Gratitude Improves Well-Being The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley found a strong correlation between frequently expressing gratitude and better health; participants in their study reported increased happiness, a greater sense of life satisfaction, and a higher resilience to stress. 
  • Gratitude Reduces Impatience A recent study found that when participants felt grateful they were more patient and had increased self-control, even more so than participants who felt happy or neutral. Researchers believe this may be a result of gratitude eliciting a sense of fulfillment and of there being more opportunities later. 
  • Gratitude Boosts Brain FunctionWhen we are stressed or upset at work, the limbic system of the brain basically takes over, suppressing activity in the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain responsible for “executive functions” and creative thinking. When you express gratitude, it instead creates a calm and safe environment in the brain, which not only makes you feel happier but can result in your brain, and the brains of those you work most closely with, doing better work.

Gratitude practices are simple activities designed to help you express and experience more gratitude. Try these gratitude practices in your workplace to experience research-based and bottom-line boosting benefits.

Gratitude Practice #1 – Keep a Gratitude Journal

Several studies have found that with repeated and rewarding action, you can rewire your brain—to see physical and visible changes in the brain—in as little as three weeks. By keeping a gratitude journal and writing in it frequently you can rewire your brain to actually experience more gratitude at work.

Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, suggests these tips for keeping your own gratitude journal:

  • Really feel it—don’t just go through the motions.
  • Be specific and detailed—this is not the place to be short and sweet.
  • Get personal—focus on the people you are grateful for, more than things.
  • Don’t overdo it—some research suggests writing an entry weekly, rather than daily, has greater positive impact.

Gratitude Practice #2 – Express Specific Gratitude

According to a study conducted at UC Davis, participants who regularly expressed gratitude felt 25% happier.  Research also confirms that one of the strongest influencers on a person’s happiness is the quality of his or her relationships–expressing gratitude is one of the most effective ways to improve the quality of relationships at work.

At Happy Brain Science, we have created a specific recipe for gratitude that helps to maximize its impact: state the Specific Behavior that was performed, the Primary Feelings it gave you, and the Behavior’s Impact on you, your team or your organization as a whole.

You can express specific gratitude more often at work by starting off team meetings with recognitions, creating a gratitude board for people to place thank-you’s on, or simply reminding yourself to start saying a sincere “thank you” more often.

Gratitude Practice #3 – Savor the Good Times

Savoring positive moments is a close cousin to gratitude, and studies confirm that, like gratitude, savoring can significantly improve your happiness and sense of well-being. Savoring the moment is a form of mindfulness, requiring you to slow down to truly feel and appreciate the present moment.

To practice savoring at work, try the following:

  • Share your Good News with Coworkers – Savoring together builds relationships and boosts happiness in the workplace.
  • Use Your Senses – Pause to truly take in the sights, sounds and smells of your good experience, focusing especially on the positive aspects of it.
  • Get Lost in the Moment – Allow yourself to be completely absorbed in the present moment. Scientists refer to this as being in flow; it is one of the happiest and most productive states of mind.
  • Celebrate Progress – Remember to congratulate yourself and coworkers for a job well done. Expressing gratitude for and truly savoring progress can increase happiness, productivity and engagement at work.

Practicing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to increase happiness and brain function. Those teams who do practice gratitude regularly in the workplace experience boosts in happiness and productivity, improved team relationships, and much more.

How can you experience and express more gratitude in your workplace? Test and learn with the strategies above, or create a gratitude practice that is unique to you.

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