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Gratitude. It’s hard.

We are entering into a world where people are starting to speak up about their stories; being vulnerable. And yet, this is so very difficult for many people and I’ve found gratitude can help, even the busiest of people.

Showing gratitude and being thankful isn’t a people pleaser. It’s not there for you to go – ‘hey, look, I can do this grateful thing’. It’s hard, really hard.

Then there are the people who go, ‘you should be grateful for what you have’. Even if you don’t realise it because let’s be honest, life can feel so hard and unfair at times. But when things get tough, being grateful is a skill.

Let’s talk about gratitude. 

Gratitude is from the Latin word gratus ‘pleasing, thankful’ (Oxford Dictionary). 

The Positive Psychology Program describes ten definitions of gratitude. The one I like, because of its simplicity, is where gratitude is described as “a social emotion that signals our recognition of the things others have done for us” (Fox et al., 2015).

Quite often people feel indebted to the party giving the gratitude, that they don’t deserve it or can be embarrassed to have been thanked or praised. I clearly remember early on in my HR career, I was leading a cross-functional team and there was a warehouse leak. I was with the team moving equipment around and one of my team said, ‘thank you, you shouldn’t be doing this, but thank you’. I was really surprised and thought, I wasn’t doing this to be thanked, but for the thousands of pounds worth of equipment and with more rain predicted… well, you can see where I was going. I asked her why she was thanking me, and she said, ‘no other senior manager had ever helped, I’m amazed’.  In amidst the chaos, I remember just saying ‘we are part of a team and that helping each other was a good thing’.

I’m not talking about this because I was some kind of hero, but simply because that moment a feeling of gratitude took place and it helped us understand the value of working together.  At the time I was surprised, and it’s a conversation that’s stuck with me for many years.

Gratitude is not the same as indebtedness. While both emotions occur following help, indebtedness occurs when there is an obligation to repay a benefit has long been noted by observers of human interaction. 

The difference being that indebtedness can motivate the recipient to avoid the person who has helped them, whereas gratitude can motivate the recipient to seek out their benefactor and to improve their relationship with them. Some people may find that they feel indebted but actually, it was an act of gratitude (here’s where work culture and self-esteem can factor).

There’s an increasing amount of science behind gratitude now too. Better physical wellbeing, better sleep, better mind, better focus.  Here’s one example of an article.

The people I speak to and the leaders I have coached over the years, start off with ‘I don’t have time’, ‘don’t give me the psychology/mindfulness blurb’ or have so much going on in their brain that the best way is to help them focus.

So here is a one-minute tip to get you started. It’s something I use for myself and to help busy leaders. I took the photo in this article today after I had a few minutes of air (much needed and it was a warm sunny morning!). If you can, noting these down builds a gratitude list, which will “prime your brain to notice when good things happen” (Dr Tara Swart).

A 1-minute tip for busy people

  • Ideally, get outside; even if it’s en route to grabbing a coffee. 
  • Stop for just one minute and look around. (Don’t look at your phone.)
  • Focus on something that’s going on around you, rather than what’s on your mind.
  • Think of one thing you are grateful for. 
  • Practice this. You’ll find that the more you practice, the more you find you build it into your everyday routine and the easy gratitude becomes.

What quick tip do you have?

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ferris Bueller

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