09 Nov Grief & Gratitude: How Focusing On What Is Going Right Can Help
“No matter how good you are at negativity, you’re also capable of positivity.”
– Barbara Fredrickson
I sometimes find myself finishing an online meeting with a group and thinking, ‘That felt almost normal,” which is a weird thought to have. But 20 months into the pandemic, it’s not an uncommon thought. Everything is still a little surreal. We are attempting to get back to normal in a world that is still full of underlying anxiety. I’ve talked before about Scott Berinato’s article from early in the pandemic called “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief,” and we’re still experiencing it. He speaks about how this kind of grief is confusing because it is based on a constant state of uncertainty.
But what if there were something you could do, that if you did it every day, would increase your optimism, resilience and immunity, help you sleep better and give you a greater appreciation for life?
What if it only took 30 seconds a day?
Enter gratitude–the focus on what is going right.
This is not at all about just “thinking positive” or “looking on the bright side.” That form of thinking isn’t helpful if it is denying or suppressing your negative feelings.
The practice of gratitude is different. It is not about denying the grief or negative emotions you are having. You still need to feel those feelings. It is simply about taking note of what is going right.
Do This: Keep a Gratitude Journal
The practice involves writing down at least three things every day that you are grateful for in your life. That’s it. What I like about this practice is that it takes less than 5 minutes each day (and can even be done in 30 seconds!), but the impact can be transformational.
It’s as easy as getting a notebook and setting aside a few minutes to sit down each morning to make your list. Numerous studies have shown that those who practice this habit regularly have higher positivity ratios.
When we express gratitude, our brains release dopamine and serotonin (the so-called “happiness hormones”), which change the way we take in information, opening our minds to new ideas and allowing us to become more resilient, engaged, optimistic, and creative. We even sleep better and have more of a sense of purpose.
If you’re skeptical at all about this process, just try it personally for three weeks and see what happens. I committed to keeping a gratitude journal for an entire year once and, at the same time, to observing and tracking any changes that occurred. What I noticed was that as the days went on, the gratitude got deeper.
But also, very unexpected things happened. I saw very little change in the first few weeks, but then on day 15, I had a massive shift. I entirely and unconsciously reframed a situation. I became grateful for something I had previously been feeling resentful about.
On day 16 (the day after the reframing), I had the most productive day for a year or two. I began picking up on things I had been procrastinating on for months. It seemed that letting go of the resentment and feeling the gratitude freed up this incredible space for movement.
Others write of similar experiences. As a result, workplaces are implementing gratitude practices with excellent results. For example, a 2014 study from the University of Florida found that employees’ stress levels and physical symptoms decreased by about 15% after spending ten minutes writing about events they were grateful for each day at work.
Have you ever considered starting a gratitude practice? In an HBR article (Oct 2020), Christopher Littlefield described having a gratitude practice as being “like a workout and a healthy eating plan for your mind”!
Practicing gratitude can improve your life and even help create a better workplace. Research shows that it can help teams persevere with challenging tasks.
In dealing with the grief and uncertainty in today’s world, though, things often hit us the wrong way. While feeling all of the negativity, we can still be making choices to keep from falling into a downward spiral. Learning to reframe negative events is another practice that works.
How to Cultivate Gratitude by Reframing
I first learned the art of reframing from speaker and coach Carla Rieger. This was during a terrible year where I had tremendous financial pressure and an uphill road to climb.
The reframing process uses gratitude to replace the old stories we have about ourselves with positive ones.
It starts by taking note of the appreciation you have about yourself and your circumstances and noticing the things that are going right in your life versus those that are not. Rieger then suggests the “memory imprint” process of writing about a time in the past where you have overcome something similar to your current issue. For example, if you’re stressed about an upcoming job interview, think of a time in the past where you had a successful interview and write about how that went.
Through a daily practice of reframing in this way, I completely changed my mindset about the situation, leading with positivity, and had my most financially successful year ever.
Gratitude and Positivity Ratios
We all have more positive experiences and thoughts than negative ones, but the negative ones can be so potent that they can take over if we let them.
Dr. Barbara Frederickson, the principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina, suggests that we strive for a minimum positivity ratio of 3:1
This means that we need at least three positive thoughts or feelings for every negative one.
A rigorous review of the literature in this field shows us that as positivity increases towards and past the 3:1 ratio, oxytocin in the brain increases and people begin to see a broader range of possibilities, increasing creativity and flourishing.
People with higher positivity ratios tend to thrive, and those with lower ratios tend more often to languish.
How to Nurture Gratitude at Work
Keeping a personal gratitude journal at home is one thing, but what can we do to promote a more positive culture of gratitude in the workplace?
Here are three suggestions:
- Provide each of your team members with a journal and some information/discussion on gratitude journaling. Suggest that they commit to it for 21 days as a start.
- Start weekly meetings by asking people to share a personal or professional win from the previous week. Pick a name for your weekly meetings if you like, such as Terrific Tuesdays or Thankful Thursdays, and ask people to share something from their weekly gratitude journal if they would like to.
- Create a “Wall of Gratitude” in your office (on a physical wall or a website) where people can anonymously post things they are grateful for.
Starting a gratitude practice personally and nurturing this practice in your workplace may be one of the most impactful steps you take as a leader to improve the well-being of your organization. Moreover, it is a simple, no-cost/low-cost practice in helping individuals to re-frame and focus on what is going right.
Building a Gratitude-Centric Workplace
Fredrickson advises that prioritizing your day to work in positivity will increase productivity and help each of us contribute our best. She suggests that we have a “to feel” list as well as a “to-do” list. That is, instead of thinking of positivity practices as being something else to add to your “to-do” list, they are actually tools to help you get through that list. For example, if I have a series of tough meetings coming up, I need to prioritize the time to manage how I am feeling going into them. Working in time for a walk, meditation, or my gratitude practice will get me in the mindset to be more successful in the meetings.
As a leader, modeling the practice of gratitude can go a long way toward improving the well-being of your team or organization. As Fredrickson says, how we feel as leaders “is being broadcast to the entire workforce” every day. If you want people to contribute their best, consider the example you are setting.
If you want to reap the benefits of positive workplace culture, I can help — just send me a message to get started!
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This article was originally posted in 2016 and was updated just for you!
Image via Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.