Gratitude has been of interest to philosophers and scientists alike for thousands of years. Everyone from Socrates to Marcus Aurelius has shared their opinions on the matter.

As the year comes to the calendar’s end, it’s a time where many of us reflect on our lives and our relationships with everyone around us. Thanksgiving also brings with it a reminder to be grateful for what we have over a home-cooked meal and laughter (with no political conversation…ok?). After the wild year that’s been, perhaps more than ever it’s a good time to take pause and give thanks.

Gratitude, even in its simplest form, can have an enormous impact on our lives. And given the lens on this blog we thought it would be interesting to explore the impact of gratitude on creativity, productivity and collaboration.

How Do We Define Gratitude?

Gratitude, or thankfulness, is the feeling of appreciation or another positive emotional response we experience on the receiving end of an act of kindness. Acts of kindness can be simple compliments, gifts, actions and even simple intentions.

Researchers have found that gratitude impacts various aspects of our lives. Gratitude can change our emotional state, personality, career success, and our relationships.

Robert Emmons, a professor in psychology at UC Davis, has been studying gratitude for years. In his research, he points out there are 2 key components to gratitude.

First, gratitude is the acknowledgement that “there is good in the world.”  It is an understanding that while we face many challenges and burdens in our daily lives, good will always remain.

Gratitude helps us adopt a holistic approach to the world, acknowledging both the positives and negatives. Gratitude isn’t about simply ignoring the hardships we face; instead, it offers a perspective that stresses the big picture.

Second, Emmons points out that gratitude also seeks to highlight where that goodness comes from. For some, this might be spiritual (such as a higher power). For others, it’s attributable to the actions of those around us. Having to highlight the source of goodness makes it more concrete and tangible.

Being Grateful Makes Us Happy

Practicing gratitude has a host of benefits for us.

Having gratitude has a direct and positive impact on our happiness or psychological well-being. When we do good things for others, we feel good and they do as well. One meta-analysis conducted in 2020 also found that gratitude reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. While their findings showed it to be a small effect, the results are still promising for these types of interventions in combination with other treatments.

While the effects of gratitude on directly reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety were of small effect, the indirect link from being grateful to happiness is pretty easy to identify, considering it can make us more creative, more productive and better collaborators.

Gratitude Improves Our Creative Thinking

So does gratitude make us more creative?

Kim Cameron, a leading scholar on leadership and positive psychology (“…the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”) researched that very question. In her study at the University of Michigan, she found that workplaces that encouraged more positive practices, like showing gratitude and appreciation, improved not just happiness and productivity, but also creative thinking.

One such reason for the connection between creativity and gratitude is because of how being grateful reduces stressors in our lives. When we are stressed, we’re more rigid in our thinking, resulting in less creative thinking. Stress-reduction expert, Pete Sulack, also points out that gratitude can improve our innovative thinking because we are more present and grounded.

And so, to foster creativity, we also need to foster a positive workplace where we are less stressed and more grounded.

Gratitude Improves Our Health—and Productivity

Productivity also gets a boost when we practice more gratitude.

For one, gratitude improves our physical health. Researchers found that by practicing gratitude, there’s a noticeable decrease in common issues like headaches, acne, stomach aches, and congestion. A study from 2004 also found that gratitude improves our immune systems. Physical health and mental health have always been related, so this should come as no surprise.

When we care for ourselves mentally and physically, it’s far easier to focus on the task at hand and accomplish more at work.

Gratitude also affects our work ethic. When employees are rewarded—even simply with words—they perform better.

In one experiment, participants were divided into 2 groups, one where managers were told to express more appreciation than the control group. The research showed that managers who expressed gratitude more often to their team had a 50 percent higher rate of productivity than those who didn’t.

Gratitude Makes Us Better Collaborators

Being a social interaction by nature, gratitude has an effect on our collaborations. By expressing gratitude, we not only improve the recipients’ emotions— but our own as well. Dr. Suzanne Vickberg, a social psychologist, suggests we often underestimate the impact of expressing our gratitude to others. The impacts are very real – and makes colleagues feel a sense of belonging (especially when your method of expressing gratitude is tailored to the recipient).

The positive impact of gratitude is a two-way street and fosters stronger relationships. Some researchers suggest that gratitude is an evolutionary advantage that allows us to work together and build trusting relationships with those who aren’t our immediate relatives.

Whether as the one being thanked or showing thanks, gratitude is crucial in how we collaborate and produce together.

Gratitude Improves Relationships

As we previously touched on, when it comes to relationships, gratitude is important. Expressing gratitude and appreciation helps in improving how partners feel towards each other. A study from 2010 showed that couples where partners expressed thankfulness scored higher on relationship satisfaction.

All collaborations rely on relationships. Whether a work or personal relationship, the principle applies across the board. It’s important to show thankfulness to others to be more creative, productive and collaborate more effectively.

Gratitude Can Be Simple

The simple behaviour of thanking others doesn’t take much effort, and yet, many managers and team leaders don’t even do this. In a survey from 2017, employees reported that one of the main reasons they quit a job is because they feel underappreciated.

Knowing this, it’s important for managers to step up and start to make even just small incremental changes to show appreciation and gratitude.

Showing gratitude doesn’t require anything elaborate to have the full effect. A study by Sheldon & Yu on expressing gratitude found that sending a simple text messaging can be just as rewarding as more complicated (“thoughtful”) means of saying thanks. When we delay giving thanks to do so in-person, besides the possibility of never getting around to it, it can be a bit more awkward.

Practicing Gratitude All Year

While Thanksgiving is a time when we are all reminded to be thankful, it’s something we all need to practice more often. By fostering positive environments and relationships, we see a host of benefits. It makes us and those around us feel good.

When we start by encouraging a positive and grateful mindset in ourselves, we can hopefully inspire others to do the same.

And thank you.

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