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Gratitude: Turning a Holiday of Gratitude into a Habit

With the holiday season fast approaching, many people are taking the time to count their blessings. We give thanks for our family, our health, our freedom, to name a few. However, even though the average American spends approximately 1,700 hours per year at work, research shows that we aren’t likely to give thanks for our current job, or give thanks to those with which we work. In fact, less than 15% of those surveyed responded that they express gratitude at work on a daily basis (John Templeton Foundation, 2012).

It has been suggested that some people may fear their gratitude coming off as insincere, especially when it is expressed during a holiday season that puts a heavy emphasis on giving thanks. To combat this, this blog gives you tips on how to turn expressing gratitude into a habit, not just a holiday tradition, and how to express it during the holiday season without seeming disingenuous.

Turning gratitude into a habit. Just like our other habits (for example, healthy eating or exercising), the key to building a habit is consistency. The habit of gratitude should be approached in the same way. Creating a daily routine that builds in expressions of gratitude is the fastest ways to create a habit of gratitude. For example, you can try activities such as:

  • 5-Minutes Journal: Every day, take five minutes to write down what you are thankful for at work that day. Whether it be appreciation for a specific coworker, or simply being thankful for getting a full lunch break that day, writing down your gratitude is a great way to re-center your perspective.
  • 30 Days of Thanks: At the end of the day, reach out to someone in your work life to express your appreciation for them and their work. And don’t feel pigeon-holed into your typical coworkers; try to think outside the box and thank your coworkers in other departments, or even your customers! They contribute to your success on the job just as much as your subordinates and your supervisor do.
  • Acts of Service: Go beyond saying thanks and, instead, show thanks by completing acts of service. These behaviors should include tasks that you can do for someone else without expecting anything in return. For example, picking up an extra coffee for your co-worker on your way into work, cleaning the team kitchen or filling the copier. Try creating an “Act of Service” schedule where you go above and beyond for someone once a week or once a month. As an added bonus, these acts of service have positive effects for both the giver and the receiver, so you, too, can experience a boost of mood, a decrease of negative emotions, and even a chemical increase of the “happy hormone” dopamine (Nelson, Layous, Cole, & Lybomirsky, 2016).

Taking the time to express gratitude on a consistent basis can help you create a gratitude mindset – one where expressing gratitude isn’t an annual event prompted by the holiday season, but rather a conscious part of your everyday life at work.

Expressing gratitude authentically. We want our expressions of gratitude to be taken as sincere, not simply a by-product of the holiday season. Here are some tips for expressing gratitude in a way that comes across as honest and sincere:

  • Be specific. Messages such as “Thank you for your hard work!” may come across as less sincere. It is a given that everyone in your organization is a hard worker, and cookie-cutter expression of gratitude that could be applied to anyone often times seem less authentic. Try to pinpoint something unique that this person contributes to the team.
  • Acknowledge the person, not just the work. While there certainly is nothing wrong with expressing gratitude for a person’s work, try to remember to also express gratitude for the person themselves. Ask yourself what makes their work standout, and include that in your expression of gratitude. For example, expand a simple “Thank you for the great work on that report” by adding “I appreciate your creativity and your attention to detail.”
  • Consider the recipient. People are inherently different; and this assumption holds when we consider how people like to be thanked. While some people may relish in a public expression of gratitude, others may find the spotlight embarrassing. Paying attention to the preferences of those on the receiving side of your gratitude will help your expression of gratitude come across as sincere, rather than manufactured.

The personal benefits of gratitude. Not only can expressing gratitude improve the attitudes of those around you, but it also has a plethora of positive outcomes for you personally. Work-related outcomes include reduced stress levels (Wood, Maltby, Gillet, Linley, & Joseph, 2008), higher self-esteem (Chen & Wu, 2014), better sleep (Digdon and Koble, 2011) and a more optimistic view about the future (Jose, Lim, & Bryant, 2012).  Expressing gratitude also has a positive impact on your work team, increasing their prosocial behavior, reduces aggression, enhances empathy and increases productivity (Grant & Gino, 2010). As mentioned earlier, gratitude can also trigger chemical changes, such as increasing your dopamine levels.

The most important takeaway from these studies, however, is that the positive side effects of gratitude emerged over time, with the most significant benefits appearing only after several months of practice. Research shows that you can rewire your brain by recalling two things you are grateful for everyday for 21 days (Emmons and Mishra, 2011). Thus, it is important that we extend our expression of gratitude outside of the holiday season and turn giving thanks into a year-round practice! 

By Kelsey Richels, M.S. 

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