You might think you have to put in long hours or take on a huge project to improve your work performance. But did you know that a simple gratitude practice is a scientifically-proven way to get better (and feel good!) at your job?
It may sound too good to be true, but it’s a fact—and there’s plenty of research to prove it. For example, a study from the University of Florence found that when people practice gratitude at work, they’re more productive, happier, and ultimately more successful, and an additional study published in Clinical Psychology Review shows that people who express gratitude are more agreeable, open, and conscientious.
Gratitude doesn’t just affect us personally—it’s vital for creativity, collaboration, and innovation to flourish inside an organization. “Gratitude makes it safe to fail, or risk failure,” says Tevis Trower, founder and CEO of Balance Integration, a coaching service that strives to humanize the workplace. “We suddenly have a sense that our value is not only predicated on our success but upon our effort and contributions.”
The bottom line? Gratitude is essential for our personal and professional development. Here are three tips for leveraging the power of appreciation at work:
1. Be Aware → Declare → Share
Psychologist Richard Emmons, Ph. D., one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, has a three-step sequence for making gratitude a practice: aware, declare, and share. Here’s how it works.
1. Aware: Pause and recognize that you’ve benefited from someone else’s actions, like when a coworker steps in to help you meet a deadline or offers to switch shifts with you.
2. Declare: Put how you’re feeling into words. If you can, tell that person what they’ve done for you and thank them directly. If that’s not an option, try writing your thoughts down.
2. Keep a Gratitude Journal
There’s a lot of science that shows that gratitude journals encourage positive mental health outcomes, increase our self-esteem, and can even improve the length and quality of our sleep. End each workday by making a list of what went well that day. What did you get done? What did you feel good about? It can be a supportive coworker, positive feedback from a customer, or even just a lunchtime walk on a sunny day. Set a goal to add at least one item to your journal each day, and take a moment to review your list at the end of the week and savor your successes.
3. Be a Positive Influencer
Positive emotions spread just like negative ones do—so if you cultivate an upbeat energy, others will feel it, too. Here are some simple ways to do just that:
- Be a role model: Respond to tense or closed-off body language with a smile or a nod of understanding.
Up your positivity ratio: Shift your attention to what’s working in your job (rather than what’s not) by naming two things that are going well when a lousy thing happens at work.
- Connect the dots: You’re more likely to appreciate your colleagues (and vice versa) if you feel like you’re all on the same team and working toward the same goals. Ask yourself: Why do you do what you do? What brought you to this job in the first place? This will help you transcend day-to-day tasks, long meetings, and logistical details to remember your shared mission.
- Start a chain reaction: When you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s gratitude, thank them for taking the time to share their appreciation. Though it may sound like overkill, researchers at Harvard Business School found that thanking others for expressing their appreciation creates a positive feedback loop that paves the way for even more gratitude in the future.
Hannah Wallace is a Portland-based journalist and editor who writes about integrative medicine, sustainable agriculture, and wine for Food & Wine, Vogue, Fast Company, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @Hannahmw23.