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The Science Behind an Attitude of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
- William Arthur Ward

The word gratitude comes from the Latin word “gratia,” meaning grace or graciousness. As Thanksgiving Day approaches, a deeper understanding of gratitude can help us maintain a more balanced positive mental attitude, especially as this holiday season kicks into high gear. Adding gratitude to our daily life wherever we are can have tangible benefits for those we interact with and ourselves.

Some studies show that Employers who take the time to stop and say “thank you” for favors or a job well done discover that those employees feeling appreciated are motivated to perform better and exceed expectations. Be mindful that gratitude is expressed with authenticity; anything less is disingenuous and will offend your employees.

Gratitude May be Expressed in Many Ways

I like to remember birthdays and anniversaries; I put them in my calendar and set an alert for the morning of; when my phone alert goes off, I send a simple text first thing that morning with my best wishes; it only takes a minute. I’ve been doing this for years, and this small, thoughtful act reminds the people in my life that I’m thinking of them, and I care about them.

These five questions are a good start to expressing gratitude throughout the year.

1. Are any of your employees celebrating a birthday or anniversary soon?

2. Has anyone gotten married, engaged, had a child or grandchild recently?

3. Has anyone earned a degree or is about to complete their work on one?

4. Has anyone purchased or sold a home recently or closing on one soon?

5. Do you know any of your employees’ favorite sports team, music group,

movie, hobby?

These are just a few opportunities that will have a long-term impact on you and your relationships.

Some Scientific Benefits of Expressing Gratitude

“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out, and the tide of love rushes in.”
- Kristin Armstrong

Clinical psychologist and certified psychiatric counselor Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury says, “When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel “good.” They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.

By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.” (1)

Psychologist Karen Young writes about the impact gratitude has on the brain, saying,

“When the brain feels gratitude, the parts of the brain that are activated include the ventral and dorsal medial pre-frontal cortex. These areas are involved in feelings of reward (the reward when stress is removed), morality, interpersonal bonding and positive social interactions, and the ability to understand what other people are thinking or feeling.

Gratitude also has the capacity to increase important neurochemicals. When thinking shifts from negative to positive, there is a surging of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These all contribute to the feelings of closeness, connection, and happiness that come with gratitude.

Gratitude builds on itself. We know the brain changes with experience, so the more that gratitude is practiced, the more the brain learns to tune in to the positive things in the world…Gratitude rewires our brain, so we become more likely to focus on the positives in the world than the negatives.

We’re not going to become ignorant of danger if we appreciate the positives for a little while, but we will become more open to the good. Our brains will always seek the things that keep us safe, but we also need the things that nurture our happiness and emotional well-being.” (2)

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
- Oprah Winfrey

End Notes

(1) The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief

(2) The Science of Gratitude – How it Changes People, Relationships (and Brains!) and How to Make it Work for You


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