We’ve all felt burnout, stress, and resentment at work; it happens, and it’s natural. However, holding onto these emotions for too long – no matter how warranted they may be – can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health.
Without allowing for our boundaries to be disrespected, or ignoring harmful emotions, how can we advocate for our health and work on a mindset that helps us thrive through difficult workplace situations? The answer may be in practicing gratitude. Gratitude has documented effects on our brain, our mental health, and our social and professional relationships.
Gratitude changes our brains.
Over the past fifteen years, there have been several studies on the long term effects of consciously practicing gratitude. Among the results are increased happiness and decreased instances of depression. This has also been found to include those who suffer from mental illnesses. The impacts are actually visible in brain scans.
Why could this be?
Practicing gratitude – writing weekly gratitude letters or journal entries, for example – does not solve problems or make issues in the workplace go away. However, what it does do, is train your brain to more easily focus on positive, uplifting emotions such as thankfulness and joy, rather than envy or resentment. If you’re having difficulty moving on after a disappointment in your job, or a conflict with your colleagues, this kind of brain training might ease the process.
How can you practice gratitude?
Practicing gratitude to help your own health and mindset in the workplace can be a completely independent task, if that’s what works best for you. While it is certainly a good habit to thank your coworkers more often, and express gratitude when you feel it, this can also be done privately.
Gratitude has the same effects on your brain, even if you don’t share it with anyone. Studies have found simply expressing the gratitude regularly is enough, even if you, for example, write a letter and never send it.
The important part here is the expression. Whether that be a letter, a journal entry, a text, a phone call, or a voice note. Just make sure to incorporate the effort of focusing on your gratitude into your weekly schedule.
One thing to keep in mind is this has to be a habit worked into your ongoing routine, not a one and done activity. Generally, the positive results of practicing gratitude regularly do not occur immediately, but are gradually accrued over time.
Spread a grateful attitude at the office.
No matter where you work, you can make small behavioural shifts to foster a grateful mindset for everyone. The more you practice being grateful, the more gratitude will naturally come to you and, hopefully, some of your colleagues.
Here are some things you can try to enhance your workplace’s culture of gratitude:
- Pay attention to the little things – if you can, make a list of three positives at the end of every workday. Whether these were personal accomplishments or a moment of gratitude for a colleague, take note.
- Shout-out your coworkers – especially when things are busy and potentially overwhelming. Noticing and commenting on their accomplishments and strengths is a great way of showing them gratitude, but also for you to keep in mind the positives in your environment.
- Write thank you notes – to clients, networking contacts, colleagues, etc. A simple note of thanks on a post it, or through a text, can go a long way!
- Create a special email folder – each time you receive an email that makes you feel grateful, appreciated, proud, or just makes you smile, save it in a special folder. When you’re feeling down or having trouble practicing gratitude, scroll through it to keep yourself going.
Practicing gratitude is not a cure-all for workplace stressors and conflicts. However, it can have long term positive effects on your mental health and the overall culture of your workplace. These effects have been documented and proven definitively. Gratitude takes time and effort – but it’s worth a shot.