The Season Is Always Right to Practice Gratitude
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
As we enter the holiday season, my co-author Teresa and I thought we should reflect on gratitude, something we need a lot more of in the world today.
Most of the conversations about gratitude focus on the positive things that happen to us. Gratitude has become synonymous with being thankful and often emerges as a reaction to someone else’s actions — gift giving being the most common.
Depending on the circumstances, gratitude can be both an emotion and an action, triggered by some force beyond ourselves. The psychology research about gratitude points to a wide range of positive effects: reduced stress, increased happiness, stronger relationships, increased exercise, and greater overall wellness.
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The focus on the good things that have happened to us is entirely logical, as the notion of focusing on negative life experiences is arguably way less appealing. However, I'm struck by Emerson’s quote that gratitude can be fueled by the full range of life experiences, not just the happy moments.
In those instances when life is tough, distance is typically our friend. It allows us to have a clearer perspective on events, the actions of others and our resulting emotions. In the heat of the battle when things aren’t going our way, it’s unlikely that gratitude will be the first emotion we experience. Over time though, it is possible that a negative event can have an amazingly positive influence in our lives.
Said another way, feelings of gratefulness for a gift might emerge immediately, whereas it may take years for gratitude to emerge that is linked to a negative life event.
I couldn’t see it at the time, but in hindsight I’m so glad it happened.
It’s important to remind ourselves that our work life ebbs and flows, and those ups and downs are the weave in the fabric of our careers. Disappointments happen — missed job opportunities, promotions that didn’t come through, negative performance reviews, decisions we regret and even job loss.
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In the moment, asking yourself to “look at the bright side” may be more than we can stomach. The challenge becomes giving yourself permission to reframe your perspective over time. Physical and temporal distance typically create a more balanced view, including gratitude — yes, gratitude — for the actual negative event itself.
It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
I’m reminded of my flight training as a private pilot. We're taught the three “C’s” of how to find your way when you’re lost.
- Stay Calm: If you lose your cool, there’s no one else to save you. It’s in your best interest not to let your fear override your ability to think.
- Over Communicate: Don’t try to solve your problem alone. Use your skills and the technology at hand to engage with those on the ground who are calm, stable and see things you don’t see.
- Climb Higher: Instead of flying on a continued course of uncertainty, elevate your altitude and improve your perspective. The same thing applies in our careers. Lift up your thinking, your vision and your aspirations to seek clarity about where you are going.
Life can be profoundly messy, filled with surprises and uncertainty. The question is how we respond to those less-than-perfect moments.
No doubt, the global pandemic of 2020-21 has left its mark on all our careers. The conversations I’ve been entrusted with have been inspiring and compelling, often filled with the bravery it takes to disrupt the current trajectory and set a new course.
I’m one of the many people who has chosen a new path during the pandemic, and I am so grateful for all the wonderful professional and personal relationships that made it possible. Albeit harder to embrace, I also am grateful for life’s tougher lessons, the wisdom that emerges from the challenging times and the chance to leverage the sum of my experiences to uplift others.
This season, and any season, gift yourself with gratitude. Here’s a simple daily formula:
- Say thank you more and really mean it.
- Acknowledge something special about someone else.
- Offer and accept kindness — a lot.
Teresa Roche is the chief human resources officer of the City of Fort Collins, a fellow at Harvard University’s Learning Innovations Laboratory, and a member of the Colorado State University Human Resource Executive Network.
I have had a long learning journey with gratitude, with seminal moments of profound insights.
My mother was a gifted writer, and letters written to me where she thanked me taught me the power of taking time to let someone know your gratitude. As she died young, I treasure her words. 40 years later, I can feel the depth of her love reading her words.
A friend once told me when he wanted to thank me, I would respond with all the reasons he should not. My reaction hurt him as I was not allowing him to speak, and he wondered why I felt a need to dismiss his words. I am grateful to him for teaching me that the expression of gratitude holds the possibility of a virtuous circle between people.
Somebody told me that perhaps I was a little too grateful, and I replied that living in daily gratitude was like breathing. This conversation helped me realize how much I cherish writing about what I appreciate about another.
I often start and close my day writing my appreciation to others, and it helps me stay centered. I have realized I feel most alive when I am present to life’s joys and sorrows with gratitude.
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About the Author
Mary Slaughter is the Global Head of Employee Experience at Morningstar, an investment research and management firm headquartered in Chicago, IL. Prior to joining Morningstar, she served as a managing director, People Advisory Services at EY. Connect with Mary Slaughter: