Gratitude matters when running a business, both for your mental health and for the health of your organization.
In late 2019, people sat down to make their New Years’ resolutions for the coming year. Many decided to be more grateful in their daily life.
On the resolutions lists for 2020, some suggested to “repeat an affirmation related to gratitude in the morning” or to simply “look on the bright side” — or the very vague suggestion to “be good, be kind, be better.” While relatively simple to execute in theory, could it really be that simple in reality?
Little did anyone know how the world would soon be disrupted by the looming coronavirus pandemic—making gratitude more important, and even surprisingly more challenging, than ever before.
The wisdom of being grateful
You may be surprised that insights from ancient Greek thinkers could resonate with modern CEOs and business leaders, but the importance of gratitude is timeless.
The Greek philosopher Epictetus tells us, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Of course, Epictetus must have meant “wise human,” as 36% of US businesses are women-owned!
Modern psychology research supports these insights, too. In studies at leading universities, participants who focused on gratitude felt more optimistic about their lives and even visited the doctor less frequently.
Gratitude forces us to think about the “now” instead of the past and future. This means our minds become free to focus on what we can control, instead of lingering on regret or anxiety.
Sigh… Why do we focus on the negative?
Wanting to be grateful is easy, but remembering to be grateful is hard. When business and life get chaotic, counting your blessings is probably the last thing on your to-do list.
The human brain tends to focus on the negative. One example of this is “loss aversion theory,” or the idea that people care more about losses than wins. Experiments have shown that people get more upset about losing something than gaining something new.
The key to gratitude is overcoming the natural “survival instinct” that causes us to fear failure and instead learn to think slowly and deliberately.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman describes two psychological systems in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow. “System 1” is our unconscious survival mode, while “System 2” is analytical, reasoned thinking.
Business leaders know the importance of having a strategic mindset—in fact, long-term planning is key to being an entrepreneur. When facing problems in your business, leaning into gratitude and “System 2” thinking can help you make the right decisions in the long term, rather than succumbing to fear and negativity.
Try these easy gratitude exercises
So, how can you remind yourself to be more grateful on a daily basis?
One way is by starting a gratitude journal. This doesn’t have to be complicated—it’s enough to just get a notebook and jot down two to three things you’re grateful for each day. Don’t worry about repeating things or using perfect spelling.
You could also incorporate more reflection time into your daily routine. This could mean taking 10 minutes to meditate in the morning or taking a short walk at lunchtime.
The most important thing is to be consistent and make sure the new changes stick.
Becoming a grateful leader
Learning to be more grateful isn’t just helpful in your own life. It can also help you inspire others in your company.
According to the Academy of Management Insights, creating a positive “culture of gratitude” in your business can help reduce turnover and improve employee morale. There are other business benefits, too. A report from the Global Happiness Council tells us “a meaningful increase in well-being” yields on average a 10% increase in productivity.
Business leaders and entrepreneurs can encourage gratitude in a variety of ways. Forbes contributor Karlyn Borysenko has shared some stories of how small business owners have built a culture of gratitude including Indira Hodzic, owner of IMAGE MedSpa, who makes a point to share positive affirmations and quotes with her employees. Likewise, human resources consultant Rebecca Mazin encourages clients to write notes thanking employees for specific actions.
Gratitude means appreciating everyone’s contribution, celebrating even the small wins, and giving praise where it is due. It also means giving suppliers, colleagues and customers the benefit of the doubt—even when the going gets tough.
Up next: Building resilience as a business leader allows you to overcome unforeseen obstacles with ease. Learn how this soft skill is every successful leader’s secret weapon.
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