The Science, Stories & Impact Behind Gratitude

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are taking a moment to examine gratitude. What does science say about gratitude? What are stories about gratitude that created greatness? What quotes and sayings are there that remind us of the importance of gratitude? And, how does gratitude affect business leaders? Join us as we dive into the science, lessons, and effects of a grateful attitude.



The science of gratitude

Research defines gratitude as a “distinctive function” of human emotion that focuses on “noticing positive outcomes in life.” Unlike optimism, which is focused on future events, gratitude is the art of noticing the good in a current situation (Emmons et al., 2019). Consider the following findings of scientific research.


Gratitude improves long-term well-being

In a research article from 2011, some participants were asked to participate in a 4-week gratitude intervention. The remaining participants were instructed to reflect on memorable events. This 4-week study revealed that those who participated in the 4-week gratitude intervention reported higher rates of life satisfaction and self-esteem. The researchers of this study reported that “grateful contemplation can be used to enhance long-term well-being” (Rash et al., 2011).


Gratitude helps build relationships

Researchers have also examined the gift-giving traditions in some college sororities. In response to the gifts new members received from senior sorority members, new members experienced feelings of gratitude. This gratitude was a predictor of the relationship between senior and new members. The researchers concluded that gratitude has the potential to “promote relationship formation and maintenance.” It is important to note that it wasn’t the gift that predicted relationship success, but the feelings of gratitude from new sorority members (Algoe et al., 2008).


Gratitude and wisdom

In this research study, 94 participants were “interviewed about their most difficult and best life event.” They also “filled out a questionnaire on [their own] sources of gratitude.” 47 of these participants were “wisdom nominees” nominated by community members for being wise. When researchers compared the responses of the 47 wisdom nominees to the 47 randomly selected participants, they found that wisdom nominees were more likely to report feelings of gratitude for “their life in general, religion, and partner more often than” the randomly selected participants. They conclude that wisdom results from an “appreciation of life and its experiences” as well as the “growth opportunities that may result from negative events” (Susanne, 2014).


Stories of gratitude

Stories give us the ability to learn and share life lessons with others. Consider these folktales and real-life stories as a source of inspiration for the development of gratitude.


Jewish folktale: it could always be worse

A Jewish farmer complained to his Rabbi about how small his home was. He said, “Rabbi, my home is so small! It is much too small for my family! All day long my family complains and fights. What should I do to get some peace?” The Rabbi asked the farmer, “Do you have any chickens?” The farmer replied, “Yes, of course!” The Rabbi then told the farmer to put the chickens in his house with his family. Confused, but willing to try, the farmer put the chickens in the house. Soon the farmer went back to the Rabbi saying, “now my house is full of chickens and still very loud! What do I do now?” The Rabbi asked, “Do you have any goats?” and the farmer said “yes.” The Rabbi then instructed the farmer to put the goats in his home along with his family and the chickens. Confused again, but still willing, the farmer brought in the goats. Now it was even louder. The farmer went back to the Rabbi and said, “I did what you said! Now my children have no place to sleep!” Again the Rabbi instructed him to bring more animals into his home. Finally, the farmer said, “I have had enough! Please don’t tell me to bring in any more animals!” The Rabbi then told him to remove all the animals from his home. The farmer did so, his family cleaned their home, and soon all of his family members were saying how nice and spacious their home was (Pelley, 2020). The family in this folktale learned how impactful a perspective of gratitude can be. Their home that was once “too small” now seemed plenty large and plenty comfortable all because of change in gratitude.


Dr. Justin Woods’ gratitude strategy

Dr. Justin Woods’ was put in charge of a small restaurant that in his words “had little going for it.” He was given a breakfast crew to manage but was soon told the news that breakfast service would be canceled. Dr. Woods’ stated that he “realized how customers liked feeling appreciated.” Because of this, he challenged his crew “to make every customer feel their gratitude, as without them [they] would all be looking for new jobs.” By the end of the month following this initiative, the breakfast income doubled and records were continually set by the end of the quarter. Dr. Woods’ explained that “a smile, a thank you, a trip with fresh coffee was all it took to show our gratitude for their visit and how we appreciate their business.” This showing of gratitude solidified the relationship between the business and its customers while also making customers feel appreciated and cared for (Weiner, 2017).


Campbell Soup and gratitude

When Douglas Conant became CEO of Campbell Soup Company in 2001, the company was financially failing. However, by the time he left in 2011, Campbell Soup was reestablished financially and doing well. How did Douglas Conant achieve such success? The answer: he wrote ‘thank you’ notes. In the span of his career with Campbell, it is estimated that Douglas sent over 30,000 handwritten ‘thank you’ notes to employees and customers. He wrote these notes by hand himself, not over text or email, but with pen and paper. When interviewed, Douglas says that he “made it personal” for himself and others. Another interesting fact is that at the time, Campbell only had 20,000 employees. This means that each employee received their own hand-written letter of gratitude from the CEO of the company. This expression of gratitude for each and every employee fostered a sense of trust between employers and employees. Furthermore, it improved the culture to such a point that it was awarded Gallup’s “Great Workplace Award.” Sending a personal thank you to each employee and high-impact customers built bonds of trust and a greater sense of community in the workplace. This daily practice of gratitude inspired greatness in employees and has established Campbell Soup Company as an international household name (Reeves, 2016).


Gratitude quotes and sayings

Like stories, quotes and sayings can be immensely helpful in remembering and sharing life lessons. These quotes and sayings can be used by both the business coach and executive coach as not only a reminder of the importance of gratitude, but also as a topic of discussion in coaching sessions.


“Always have an attitude of gratitude.” - Sterling K Brown


“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” - G.K Chesterton


“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.”- Zig Ziglar


“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.” - Rober Braathe


“Every blessing ignored becomes a curse.” - Paulo Coelho


“No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” - Alfred North Whitehead


“When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.” - Vietnamese Proverb


“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” - William Arthur Ward


“None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.” - Fred De Witt Van Amburgh


“There is no one luckier than he who thinks himself so.” - German proverb


“Gratitude is the least of virtues; ingratitude is the worst of vices” - Paraguayan Proverb


“Gratitude and wheat grow only in good soil.” - Slovak Proverbs


“The cheerful heart has a continual feast.” - Judeo Christian Proverb


How gratitude can benefit business leaders

Clearly, gratitude has many benefits according to scientific research, reported experiences, quotes, and cultural proverbs. But how can gratitude benefit business leaders?


Gratitude encourages engagement

Gratitude can help business leaders in many ways. As discussed earlier, gratitude improves well-being, helps develop relationships, and increases others’ perception of wisdom. Dr. Nicole Lipkin also shares that gratitude helps business leaders encourage engagement. She states that “employees and coworkers will feel appreciated and will consequently feel like what they do makes a difference.” This helps employees engage more readily in their work, ultimately increasing productivity levels and creating a positive work environment.

Gratitude increases resiliency

Dr. Lipkin explains that business leaders who have an attitude of gratitude are more resilient to hardship. She states that “when you choose gratitude you jettison the victim mentality… you are more mentally equipped to handle” hardships. Furthermore, gratitude helps business leaders achieve their goals.


Gratitude assists goal achievement

Dr. Lipkin shares the results of recent research and explains that those who have gratitude practices, such as a “gratitude journal,” have a “higher chance of making progress towards personal goals” than those who do not practice gratitude. She claims that gratitude is a “professional imperative” for leaders that propel businesses forward, improve health, and improve interpersonal relationships (Lipkin, 2018).


How to develop gratitude

Gratitude is a practice and habit that can be intentionally developed. Consider the following tips and practices.


Set a time

Set a specific time during the day to reflect on your many reasons to have an attitude of gratitude. Over time, daily dedication to reflect on gratitude and having a grateful perspective will turn into a habit. For business leaders, this can mean thinking about “what life would be like without your employees” or what customers and employees are in need of a ‘thank you’ (Rampton, 2019).


Practice specificity

The best gratitude is “authentic” gratitude. This can be done by naming “a specific action.” For example, when thanking an employee for finishing a project, instead of saying only “thanks,” consider saying “thank you for getting this done before the due date and being so thorough” (Rampton, 2019). By doing this, you are reminding yourself of the effort they put forth and expressing gratitude for an employee’s specific effort—making them feel appreciated.


Gratitude journaling

One common practice to embrace gratitude is the practice of gratitude journaling. Some journal first thing in the morning while others end the day with their journal. Regardless, sitting down each day and writing down things that you are thankful for can help you create a habit of gratitude.


Use visual cues

Visual cues can be a person, a place, an object, or any other visible thing that reminds you to be grateful. For example, whenever you see food in your office, you can use it as a visual cue to remind yourself to be grateful for how your physical needs are met (Mindful, n.d.). You can also use a person as a visual cue. If there is someone in your life that you see as having an attitude of gratitude, you can use their presence as a reminder of your own goal to practice gratitude.


Discuss gratitude

Discuss what you are grateful for! One of the best ways to recognize what you should be grateful for is by learning what others are grateful for. By asking others, “what are you grateful for?” or “how do you express gratitude?”, you will recognize what you should have gratitude for in your own life and learn new ways to communicate that.


The main takeaway

Science has supported the many positive benefits of gratitude including, but not limited to, improved well-being and enhanced relationships with others. There are many ways that we can integrate gratitude into our daily lives and the lives of business leaders. We can teach the importance of gratitude through stories and quotes, and encourage gratitude through practices and habits. By creating habits of gratitude, business leaders can better their businesses as a whole by improving their resilience, well-being, employee engagement, and their own goal attainment.

References

Algoe, S. B., Haidt, J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8(3), 425–429. https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.8.3.425

Emmons, R. A., Froh, J., & Rose, R. (2019). Gratitude. In M. W. Gallagher & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Positive psychological assessment: A handbook of models and measures (pp. 317–332).


American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000138-020

How to Practice Gratitude. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/an-introduction-to-mindful-gratitude/


Lipkin, N. (2019, November 26). Why Leaders Should Cultivate Gratitude. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@DrNicoleLipkin/why-leaders-should-cultivate-gratitude-362203ea0641


Pelley, K. (2020). Teach Gratitude with this fun Jewish Folktale -Storytelling Podcast for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FO8lF0Axghg


Rampton, J. (2019, September 12). Why Gratitude Makes Leaders More Effective. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/339430


Rash, J. A., Matsuba, M. K., & Prkachin, K. M. (2011, October 27). Gratitude and Well‐Being: Who Benefits the Most from a Gratitude Intervention? Retrieved from https://iaap-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x


Reeves, J. (2016, January). How thank-you Notes saved a dying company. Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company. Retrieved from https://www.lawyersmutualnc.com/blog/how-thank-you-notes-saved-a-dying-company.


Say, J. (2021, October 15). 54 Gratitude Quotes to Inspire Gratefulness (LOVE). Retrieved from https://graciousquotes.com/gratitude/


Susanne König, Judith Glück, “Gratitude Is With Me All the Time”: How Gratitude Relates to Wisdom, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 69, Issue 5, September 2014, Pages 655–666, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbt123


Weiner, Y. (2018, July 09). 20 Examples of How Showing Gratitude Helped a Business. Retrieved from https://medium.com/thrive-global/20-examples-of-how-showing-gratitude-helped-a-business-86af0fd9e40




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