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Giving Thanks. Why Gratitude Matters.

What are you grateful to the global pandemic for?

This was a question I asked in a recent workshop which resulted in a sea of faces looking quizzically at me as if I was nuts.

But over the next couple of minutes when the participants had had some time to reflect, I started to hear comments including

“I’ve really appreciated a slowing down in the pace of life.”
“I’ve reconnected to many friends and family members overseas that I hadn’t spoken to for years.”
“I’ve had the time to finish a multitude of half-completed projects.”
“I’ve enjoyed a stronger sense of community.”

Is this true for you?

Because despite the fact 2020 will be remembered as a basket case of a year associated with terrible loss and grief, hardships and fear, there has been some good. Acknowledging this and counting our blessings is important, firstly to remind ourselves that even in times of adversity, there will always be some positives though we may have to look really carefully to find them. Secondly, focusing on those small things that give us a sense of joy or happiness is essential to being able to find the motivation and confidence to move on.

There’s a change in the air.

Have you noticed?

Up until a few weeks ago, the running commentary in the media and elsewhere was about all the negatives; the daily number of new cases of Covid-19 infection and deaths around the world, the difficulties being experienced of dealing with lockdowns, the economic downturn, the loss of jobs and financial hardship.

Now, the shift is towards preparing for 2021 and a better outlook. Businesses are looking to reboot and reenergise their workforce. Renewing energy, momentum and the desire to reimagine, reshape and reset the what, the where and the how of work to lift the prevailing mood, restore confidence and optimism.

As my friend David Beard, exercise physiologist and performance specialist said, “I think we can all give ourselves a big pat on the back for managing 2020 as well as we have done. We’re a great deal more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Focusing on what you have and giving thanks for that matters because is shifts your psychology and improves your state of mind.

Gratitude is highly undervalued. It’s one of our most powerful tools in our mental wellbeing toolbox because it acts as a buffer against the cold winds of too much stress or when dealing with illness or chronic pain.

Robert A. Emmons in his book “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier” shares how gratitude is good for

✅ More effective stress management
✅ Greater self-awareness
✅ A more positive mood
✅ More positive emotions and thinking
✅ Improved self esteem
✅ Reducing comparisonitis
✅ Increased personal efficacy
✅ Strengthening positive relationships
✅ Shifting the desire for materialism towards activities for the greater good.

In addition, other benefits to our body include a stronger immune system.

Better still, you don’t have to spend a whole heap of money on extravagant gifts to show your gratitude. A simple thank you goes a very long way to making the recipient feel good. It costs us nothing but pays us back with compound interest for our health, wellbeing and happiness.

Ways to show more gratitude

1. Say thank you

Yes, it’s simple, but how often do we forget? Caught up in being busy, distracted or plain exhausted it’s easy to overlook those niceties that go a long way to strengthening our social bonds. It’s time to make it a new micro-habit. Like saying thank you to all the invisible people we take for granted. Those who serve us in shops or at the supermarket check-out. The doctor’s receptionist or the bus driver. Do you thank your kids, your partners, your friends? Is a thank you note or phone call something you do after sharing a meal with friends, receiving a piece of work from a team member or when someone has shown you a common courtesy, like holding a door open for you or offering you a seat on public transport?

2. Keep a gratitude journal

Yes, I know this has been talked about ad nauseam. But here’s the thing, keeping a gratitude journal changes your emotional state and in a relatively short period of time. It was Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage who revealed how studies had shown keeping a gratitude journal where every day you write down three to five things you are grateful for and why for 21 days will lead to an increase in your level of optimism for up to six months. Not a bad ROI!

Especially when the things you write about don’t have to be spectacular. It’s about being grateful for catching up for a friend who you haven’t seen for a while. Or being grateful for your local Farmer’s market where the food is always so fresh and delicious. Or perhaps you’re grateful for holding onto your job and still being able to put food on the table. Whatever it is, reminding yourself of these things regularly shifts you towards a more positive outlook and away from our natural negativity bias.

3. Call out the good in others

I love this because it’s such a powerful way to make someone else feel good and then they are more likely to pay it forward too. We’re so often swift to judge and call out when someone has made a mistake, stuffed up or done something really silly. I’ve yet to meet a human who hasn’t done all of these things at some point. I know I have. Chronic Blamitis and Finger Pointing Syndrome are rampant in some workplaces, which is never helpful and leads to a toxic working environment where people are afraid to speak up or voice an opinion in case they get shot down in flames.

What if you had a praise wall where colleagues can post notes or cards acknowledging and saying thank you to someone else who they noticed when out of their way to help another colleague or stayed back late unasked to ensure a deadline was met. As the wall gets bigger, it attracts even more thank yous and spreads positivity germs around the office. You can even have a virtual praise wall if working from home.

4. Make a phone call or have a face to face conversation

Is there someone in your life who has made an impact on who you have become? Have you ever thanked them properly? Taking the time to call that person, explain why you are calling and to express your thanks may come as a surprise to the recipient, but is such a wonderful way to acknowledge those special people. It could be a parent, a sibling, your partner, a former teacher or mentor. Whoever it is may be unaware of the impact they made, so why not share the difference they made to you?

5. Write a handwritten letter or card

Last week I received a surprise parcel. How lovely I thought. On opening the package, I was surprised and delighted to find enclosed a bright red bag with my name embroidered on it. I recognised it immediately even though it had been a considerable number of decades since I had last seen it!

It was my school sports bag carefully embroidered (I was definitely not a natural at sewing) from when I was in my third year of Junior School.

While I was delighted to be reunited with a little piece of personal history, it was the handwritten card from my sister-in-law Helen noting that the item had been found while the family were clearing out the contents of the parental home and that she thought I might like to keep it. It was the thoughtfulness of her action in taking the time to post said item halfway around the world to reunite it with its original owner, that made me feel grateful to have such a wonderful and caring family.

Have you received a gift or card to say thank you? When written by hand, it becomes instantly more personal and meaningful which is why I now prefer to handwrite my Birthday or Thank you messages rather than use the impersonal printed versions. Do you?

Gratitude. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

What are you thankful for and how do you express your gratitude?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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