In 2019, a study showed Positive Psychology interventions can improve work-related outcomes including job stress, mental health, and organizational prosocial behavior (Sin, et al.).

From this and other studies, gratitude emerged as an emotion or personal trait that can provide a coping response for work-related outcomes (Donaldson, et al.).

Let’s look at emotions, especially gratitude, how they affect you, and why keeping a gratitude journal can bring out the best in you.

Emotions at the workplace

In classrooms, teachers are frequently irritated by students’ behavior. This inappropriate behavior is likely to frustrate teachers who have less experience teaching students who are raised differently than themselves. The truth is that many students do not know how to behave.

The reason for this, according to Dr. Paul Ekman, is that nobody taught them how to behave.

Dr. Ekman once asked whether emotions are hard-wired in our DNA or do we learn them during our lifetime.

His research demonstrated that while some emotions are “hard-wired”, like joy, anger, surprise, sadness, contempt, and fear, the other emotions have to be learned (Ekman).

Since this learning may not happen at home, you need to be a role model and teach additional emotions like humility, empathy, optimism, forgiveness, sympathy, and gratitude to your students.

Most of what applies to teachers and their students also apply to managers and their staff. The same thing happens to those of you who are managers. You get frustrated whenever you can’t get through to your staff who are different from you, especially those from a different culture or language.

For more information on emotion awareness, check out Paul Ekman’s website where he discusses micro-expressions and universal facial expressions.

Let’s now look at the research on gratitude.

What is gratitude?

While most people understand what gratitude is, it can be surprisingly difficult to define. Is gratitude an emotion, virtue, or behavior?

Gratitude can mean different things to different people in different circumstances.

Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process:
1. recognize that one has obtained a positive outcome, and
2. recognize that there is an external source for this positive outcome.

According to some psychologists, there are 3 types of gratitude:
1. gratitude as an affective trait (e.g. from a person who tends to be grateful)
2. gratitude as a mood (e.g. from a person whose mood changes from time to time)
3. gratitude as an emotion (e.g. a person who feels grateful after receiving a gift or favor from someone.

Their research also shows that gratitude is more than just cultural, and it may have roots in your history, your thinking, your DNA, and your development when you were children.

“Gratitude empowers us to take charge of our emotional lives and, as a consequence, our bodies reap the benefits.”

Robert Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude

Watch Robert Emmons: Cultivating Gratitude (Youtube video)

Why you should show gratitude

According to Robert Emmons, most areas of your life will improve when you view them with gratitude. His research and work on gratitude have shown that people who practice gratitude are happier, more optimistic, and more satisfied with life than those who do not practice it.

Similarly, in relationships, those who practice gratitude are less lonely. They are more forgiving, compassionate, and generous, and they can maintain longer relationships.

Research has also shown that you can develop a high-quality friendship between you and the person you thanked. Just saying a simple “thank you” to a stranger can help you win a new friend (Algoe, et al.)

Those who practice gratitude also tend to be healthier, have stronger immune systems, and suffer from fewer pains and aches. They are more adaptable and able to deal with adversity than those who do not practice gratitude (Digdon, et al.).

And besides having good health, you will also sleep better if you just spend 5-10 minutes writing down a few grateful sentiments in a gratitude journal (Digdon, et al.).

Writing your gratitude journal

Writing gratitude journal
Writing your gratitude journal

Here are some tips from an expert in gratitude on how to write and keep a gratitude journal (Froh, et al.):

1. Keep your gratitude journal personal.

2. Focus more on people to whom you are grateful, as this is more impactful than focusing on things for which you are grateful.

3. Favour depth over breadth. It’s preferable to elaborate in detail about one thing than a couple of words about many things.

4. Take note and write what is surprising and meaningful about the person, item, or event. Consider how your life would be different if not for this person, item, or event that happened.

5. You can do daily or weekly journaling, although research indicates writing once a week produces greater boosts in happiness than writing daily or three or four times a week. The reason for writing once a week is preferable as the brain adapts, and writing too frequently about good things can lose its impact.

If you feel writing gratitudes regularly is a bit daunting, get Sophia Godkin’s Gratitude Journal. Everything is nicely arranged in the journal for you to start writing. There are also many quotes in the journal to help you develop an optimistic mindset.

Conclusion

The research shows that keeping a gratitude journal can make you feel great and alive.

So, if you want to be happier, healthier, sleep better, and more optimistic, start writing!


References

  • Algoe, S. B., Fredrickson, B. L., Gable, S. L. “The Social Functions of the Emotion of Gratitude via Expression.” Emotion, vol. 13, no. 4, 2013, pp. 605–609. 
  • Digdon, N. & Koble, A. “Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial”. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, vol. 3, no. 2, 2011, pp. 193-206.
  • Donaldson, S. I. & Lee, J. Y. “Evaluating Positive Psychology Interventions at Work: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis.” International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, vol. 4, 2019, pp. 113‐134.
  • Ekman, P. “What 149 Scientists Who Study Emotion Agree About.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 11, 2016, pp. 31-34.
  • Emmons, R. & McCullough, M. E. “Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 84, 2003, pp. 377-89.
  • Emmons, R. & McCullough, M. E. The Psychology of Gratitude. Oxford Univerity Press, 2004.
  • Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., Emmons, R. A. “Counting Blessings in Early Adolescents: An Experimental Study of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being.” Journal of School Psychology, vol. 46, 2008, pp. 213-33.
  • Godkin, S. The 5-Minute Gratitude Journal: Give Thanks, Practice Positivity, Find Joy. Rockridge Press, 2020.
  • Sin, N. L. & Lyubomirsky, S. “Enhancing Well‐Being and Alleviating Depressive Symptoms with Positive Psychology Interventions: A Practice‐Friendly Meta‐Analysis.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, vol. 65, 2009, pp. 467‐487.
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