Monday, December 3, 2012

An Attitude of Gratitude

A wise colleague recently reminded me of the power of gratitude and the often forgotten notion that a few words of appreciation go a long way in fostering positive energy in an organization – and it doesn't cost a thing! I’ve also been revisiting Professor Kim Cameron’s work on positive organizational psychology and found the following very interesting.

A research study (Emmons, 2003) required a group of students to keep daily gratitude journals and another group to journal their frustrations. “The students who kept gratitude journals, compared to frustrated or neutral students, experienced fewer physical symptoms such as headaches and colds; felt better about their lives as a whole; were more optimistic about the coming week; had higher states of alertness, attentiveness, determination, and energy; reported fewer hassles in their lives; engaged in more helping behavior toward other people; experienced better sleep quality; and had a sense of being more connected to others” (Cameron, 2008). 

Could the positive effects of journaling gratitude also come from simply practicing gratitude more frequently? Each year our visiting professors from Kien Giang Community College in Vietnam observe and comment on how often we say “thank you” – “Americans say thank you three times for everything.” Expressing appreciation for gifts and other tangibles is, indeed, deeply layered into our society. Regularly showing gratitude for a job well done, however? Not so much.

One of my favorite “Thank You” cards has a cover that says, “Thanks for being...” The notion of expressing appreciation for simply being who they are, is to me, a powerful message. We’ve all done some very good work developing a comprehensive recognition program at MVCC. However, the most meaningful recognition often comes from the simple, positive, supportive individual interactions between caring colleagues every day. Equally as powerful might also be what is not said – people being more intentional with their choices to find their words, and deliver their messages, in the kinder, gentler ways more likely to sustain or build effective working relationships. 

I think human instinct most often favors paying close attention to negative signals – probably going back to our early days of hunting and gathering when ignoring negative signals was often fatal. We need far more positive interactions to outweigh the significance of and orientation toward negative ones. It’s often too easy to spend time at the end of a workday reflecting on one negative interaction, despite having had plenty of positive interactions. With a greater emphasis on gratitude, perhaps we can help create a more supportive, more reaffirming environment of gratitude and inspire a reciprocity that might provide results similar to those achieved by the students who journaled their gratitude in those studies a decade ago.  

If you have any comments, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Emmons, R.A. (2003). Acts of gratitude in organizations. In K. S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton, & R.E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship (pp. 81-93). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Cameron, K.S. (2008). Positive leadership: strategies for extraordinary performance. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.