At this time of year, as we prepare to leave 2016 and enter into a new year we are reminded to express gratitude for the things for which we are thankful. We are also challenged to find the silver lining in the situations for which we are not feeling particularly grateful.
Who benefits when we show our appreciation? It seems logical that the recipient of our well wishes is likely to be uplifted. Studies show that lack of appreciation is one of the top cited reasons why people leave their jobs and their domestic relationships. It follows therefore, that recognition is something that is coveted by the receiver.
Productivity and civility also increases. Think of the last time someone sincerely thanked you for a kindness. If you're like most of us, you found yourself feeling a connection with that individual. Before you know it, you're cheerfully doing all kinds of helpful things for the grateful person.
Conduct your own research study. Let's say you want your kids to be more helpful and self-starting around the house. First, become a trained observer. Watch closely for a small example of self-starting helpfulness. Look for a time when the helpfulness wasn't in response to a request (or demand). It may be an act as simple as holding a door open for an elderly relative, hanging up their own coat, carrying dishes to the sink, or locating the misplaced remote control. Express your gratitude. Be specific. Go beyond simply saying thanks and mention the specific behavior and why it was worthy of mention. No speech is required. Make direct eye contact and offer a sincere statement of thanks. Then keep your keen powers of observation turned on and see what happens in the hours and days following the interaction. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that your gift of thanks has come back to you as a gift of more desirable behavior or a better mood from your little person. Feel welcome to experiment on the adults in your life as well. They also respond to appreciation.
Beyond the party being thanked, research shows that expressing gratitude is good for your health. A study reported by authors Dan Heath and Chip Heath in their best-selling book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die revealed these findings.
Researchers asked different groups of people to make lists once a week for ten weeks. One group was asked to list five things they were thankful for. Another group wrote a list of five weekly events. Another group was asked to write a list of five hassles. The result? The "thankful" group felt more happiness, excitement, and joy than the other groups. They even reported better physical health, fewer headaches and fewer coughs.
Another study found that writing and delivering a letter to someone who was kind to you but whom you had never thanked, such as your favorite grade school teacher or the friend who coached you to try a new hairstyle, caused an increase in reported happiness for a full month afterward.
If you are inspired to show some gratitude, follow these steps:
STEP ONE: Become conscious. What are you thankful for that you haven't shown appreciation for? Here's a sample list to get you thinking:
The school bus driver who greets your child with a smile every morning.
The peer who gave you feedback no one else had the courage to tell you.
The manager who communicated honestly and compassionately about changes in the organization.
The IT professional who rescued your deleted files.
The sales person who patiently waded through dozens of samples to help you chose a new paint color for your bathroom.
The flight attendant who found a place for your carry-on bag when the overhead compartments were full.
The child who text-messaged to let you know they were running late.
The spouse who allowed you personal time and space to unravel after a tough day.
The customer who flattered you with their business.
The friend who found time when you needed someone to listen.
The parent you have grown to admire.
The grocery store clerk who remembers your name.
The neighbor who supports your child's fundraising activities.
The volunteer firefighter whose services you've never needed.
The pilot who landed your airplane safely.
The vendor who expedited your order to help you meet an important deadline.
The teacher who challenged you to think differently.
STEP TWO: Get creative. How can you thank this individual? Consider writing a personal note. Making a personal visit. An unexpected phone call. An email with a copy to the person's boss. This is one area of life where more monetary spending does not translate to higher quality. And it doesn't have to take a lot of your time.
Some final food-for-thought on the subject of gratitude and creativity.
What if you can't get to the person who genuinely deserves your thanks? What if you don't even know who the person is? This is common when you are grateful for a product or service. Since organizations don't invest in customer gratitude systems in the same way they invest in customer complaint systems, the challenge of expressing gratitude can cause you a lot of frustration. Have you ever called a 1-800 number to capture your compliments? 1-800 numbers with trained customer service reps are on hand in every large organization to respond to your questions and complaints.
On the occasions we do share our story of thanks, we are often left feeling like our compliments will not be relayed. Who are you supposed to call when you want to say thanks for the home security system or the insurance policy that allows you and your family to sleep more peacefully? Who do you address the note to when you feel grateful for the hands free door closure on your mini-van?
Who was the genius who dreamed up that convenient feature? Or the team of engineers who translated the idea into an easy-to-use button on your remote? You know who to call if it isn't working, but who do you call if you love it?
During this last month of the year and in the age of interconnectedness, make it your mission to seek out and get your appreciation to the person or people who are most deserving of it.
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