It may well be that shame is a revolutionary emotion. Or maybe anger, which I have noticed does have a way of setting things in motion, although not always in the directions I had hoped or imagined. For my money though, I’ll take gratitude at every opportunity.
There’s a growing body of research about the strong correlation between gratitude and happiness. Experiencing and expressing gratitude seems to contribute to our feeling, well, happier. Now I ask you, generally speaking, how can that not be a good thing?
More than a year ago, because we imagined that this hypothesis might be worth testing out, my daughter Hannah and I covenanted to venture a simple practice of gratitude with one another. As often as possible, several times a week anyway, at day’s end we take a few minutes to write a short email to each other recalling three things about our day that, having noticed them, we are feeling grateful for.
I always look forward to receiving these messages from Hannah. I’m more spotty around my enthusiasm for writing the emails I send to her, however. Sometimes I approach the end of the day feeling spent, or overwhelmed by things not yet accomplished, or just grumpy. And the practice of gratitude on these evenings feels more like a muscular discipline, requiring an active choosing and even something approaching steely resolve.
It is never the case that I lack things to be grateful for. My life and days are filled with people whose quiet courage, generosity and simple dignity move me powerfully. And I step out my back door every day to great beauty. It’s never that I lack things to be grateful for, but rather more that I am frequently feeling too rushed or preoccupied to notice. So it turns out that this discipline of giving thanks is something I really needed, simply to root me in the life that is unfolding so richly around me on a daily basis. Taking time to notice, and to put words to my noticing really has left me feeling, yes indeed, happier.
I was part of a conversation the other day with a workplace team where someone offered that this was the first place where the people they worked with actually took time to thank them for the work they were doing, appreciate a job reliably completed and well done. It turns out that we hear this from one another, a simple word of thanks recognizing our effort and contribution, quite infrequently. It also turns out that those around us may well have been appreciating our work and assumed we knew they thought we were doing a good job. And all the while we’re wondering if anyone is noticing how hard we’re trying.
The leader of another organization I work with observed that one of the surest indicators of how things are going in his stores is the level of gratitude he encounters when he visits. “When I walk through I listen for whether people are saying thank you to one another. When things are right, even during tough stretches, there’s an ineffable flow of gratitude.”
Saying thank you to each other strengthens our sense of kinship and solidarity with one another. At work and throughout our lives. We pass up the opportunity to give thanks at our own and one another’s peril. It’s like trying to work with a garden hose in freezing weather. Everything is fine as long as the hose is turned on with water flowing through it. Turn it off and leave it for a while, though, and things freeze up.
Take time to notice what you’re grateful for. And if you are feeling grateful, don’t wait for the impulse to fade. Tell someone.