The Gratitude Project – Part 4 – The Gratitude Connection: Cultivating Gratitude in Yourself and the Many Others in Your Life

The Gratitude Connection: Cultivating Gratitude in Yourself and the Many Others in Your Life


Our survival depends on a radical change; if the gratitude movement grows strong and deep enough, it may bring about this necessary change.

Brother David Steindl-Rast

In this, my fourth column on The Gratitude Project: How the science of thankfulness can rewire our brains for resilience, optimism, and the greater good, I look at the strategic contribution offered in this rich sourcebook for any gratitude believer-practitioner. Gratitude freely and honestly given has a powerful ripple effect. When we express gratitude, we seldom have any idea where the ripples will end. Some of the time they grow exponentially often to our astonishment, mounting more like a powerful tsunami rather than quietly fading into a series of diminishing concentric circles in a still country pond.

As a teacher, I experienced that unexpected reversal more than once. For instance, I recall teaching creative writing to a sincere young man who confessed that he loved to write but just couldn’t get his imagination in gear. I told him I believed he had the ability needed to write more than competently, then asked if he’d looked at other outlets for his talent where make-believe was less of a prerequisite. Two years later, I saw his mother in the school lobby where she told me I’d effected a turnaround in her son’s whole attitude. She explained he had gone on to study journalism in a university renowned for its program, was doing well and loving it. Gratitude extended, appreciated, and returned.

Part 5 of The Gratitude Project summarizes several paths and examples of how to foster gratitude. If we are to prosper and pay forward, we need to recognize how important all our contributions are. Echoing the example in the last paragraph, Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono emphasize how important it is to infuse gratitude into all our teaching. They emphasize three key gratitude principles to bear in mind: Notice intentions – realize the thought behind a gesture or gift received; Appreciate costs – what did your friend or caregiver sacrifice to provide you with the given benefit or aid; and Recognize the value of what you received – not just the intrinsic worth or list price, but to you, the recipient as an individual.

I still recall my Grade four-holiday gift exchange when all the children in my class drew names and afterward brought a present for the child each of us had identified in the draw. When we opened our gifts on the appointed day, I was slightly disappointed at what I found in my package as nothing in my experience suggested a value I could assign to it. It was a box of homemade candies made mostly from root vegetables including carrots and potatoes. I was gracious and polite in the classroom, but when I went home, and showed what I’d received to my parents. I was less enthusiastic.

My parents knew (as did I, though it didn’t come to mind right away) that the child’s family were recent refugees with little disposable income to spare. My parents, therefore, suggested I consider the gift’s uniqueness. At that moment, I appreciated what they really meant. The exotic taste of those candies remains with me and my heart still goes out to refugees whenever I think of their generosity.

One chapter in this section of The Gratitude Project suggests gratitude could even be a survival skill. Startling? But think, if there seems little to be grateful for and trust appears non-existent in your world, how scarce and dear it would seem when you unexpectedly find it. Might you not benefit by assuming an outlook that both attracts and reflects a healthier approach?

The workplace, as you probably already appreciate, offers unlimited opportunity to be grateful and ways to lead by expressing it. In a chapter designed for grateful leaders the editor’s list and illustrate some foolproof ideas to cultivate gratitude at work. These may seem more or less evident, yet anywhere in their lives, at work, people are least likely to demonstrate gratitude.

Here are five big ways to recognize and build gratitude. Start at the Top – leadership which so often fails to engage catches attention when for a change it spotlights what the rank and file do both individually and together. Thank the People Who Never Get Thanked – hierarchy numbs sensitivity to the invisible contributors; everyone needs to wake up to how important everyone else is for results. Aim for quality not quantity – people still get paid for do-overs, so what’s the point of standards; show the team how wrong that thinking is. Provide Many Opportunities for Gratitude – gratitude begets gratitude and humans naturally preference their awareness of error; keep the flow going in the right direction. In the Wake of Crisis, Take Time for Thanksgiving – How many times have you seen a small victory followed by a quick return to unappreciated struggle; think of the impact when the only concrete reward is more struggle or tedium.

Positive organizations remain outliers for lack of intentional attention to how the workforce appraises the value of its contribution. There are several reasons. Leaders who are exposed to high-level decision-making cannot miss the importance of their efforts. They can easily assume everyone else shares the same outlook. Organizations that consistently deliver on a mission statement that really looks like it’s worth accomplishing have a leg up. On the other hand, stress, however, manifested diverts the positive energy while it builds potential for guilt or shame. With gratitude, stress can be ameliorated as positive emotions build workforce resilience and commitment. As we have unrelentingly witnessed over this past extraordinary year, health care workers have earned everyone’s gratitude. How can we especially help these dedicated people?

Part 6 of The Gratitude Project goes deep. This emotion is not just about first aid or timely prompting. Sometimes through persistence, sometimes through serendipity feeling forces change. At the end of this work, largely through interviews or sometimes op-eds where open-ended questions are asked, while possibilities are being explored, we see the why’s unearthed where so many what’s and where’s have already put forth in evidence. This last section I will leave to you to dig into. Everyone, like the contributors to this modest-sized volume, will have their own reasons to be grateful as they should. The one question I would ask you to answer now on your own is whether you care enough to find your own why by comparing that to what others have discovered. You might even be transformed by the effort.



What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection monthly and International Institute for Learning, Inc. Senior Vice President, Judith Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment will help you see the possibilities.