Positive leadership

Ep 27: Embracing Gratitude: 7 strategies to enhance wellbeing for yourself and your team

December 6, 2023

tell me more

I'm Sarah — leadership and communication mentor.  I'm here to help you grow your leadership, resilience, and influence. 

Meet Saran

What’s one thing that you’re grateful for today? Do you know your favourite ways to practise gratitude? Have you ever tried to cultivate gratitude within your team or organisation? 

Gratitude can transform and significantly impact our well-being, resilience and leadership. It really is a superpower in leadership and life!

In this episode, we’re exploring the core components of gratitude, the transformational impact that regularly practising gratitude has, and 7 super easy-to-implement strategies to get you started (or try something new) with your personal gratitude practice. There are also some practical ideas to help you develop gratitude within your team or organisation.

Tune in to discover the profound benefits of gratitude and how it can enhance both your personal and professional life.

I’m grateful that you have joined me for today’s episode. Keep on positively leading!

Want to listen? Just click play below!

Prefer to read? Check out the article below.

Embracing Gratitude: 7 strategies to enhance wellbeing for yourself and your team

How often do you consciously think about what you are grateful for in life, but also in leadership? Have you told another person, perhaps a family member, a friend, or a colleague, how grateful you are for something they have done recently? Read on to see why gratitude is so important for wellbeing and what you can do to foster your own gratitude practice. 

The benefits and components of gratitude

Put simply, gratitude is a superpower in the world of Positive Psychology. The more I researched and tried positive psychology interventions, it became clear that there was one thing that could help me reduce stress, boost my energy, give me hope, improve my relationships, and overall help me feel happier and healthier at home and at work – gratitude. I then began to weave gratitude into the work I was doing with teams in school and I found the uplift to be incredible. Gratitude really is a mega-strategy when it comes to our wellbeing!

One of the proven benefits of gratitude is the role it has on building resilience (take a look at episode 2 if you want to explore resilience further). A common myth about resilience is that it’s all about gritting your teeth and battling through when enduring tough times. Actually, resilience is more about being able to take events in your stride, even when they’re stressful. It’s about your ability to sustain and recharge your energy, even in highly demanding situations and tasks. Resilience is important for wellbeing as it’s one of the key ways that we can prevent burnout and thrive instead. 

Resilience levels are fuelled by qualities like optimism and this is where gratitude applies. When we’re feeling grateful for the good things around us there are three broad categories of benefits. The first are physical benefits, with gratitude practice enabling us to have a stronger immune system, become less bothered by aches and pains, and actually lower our blood pressure. It can even help us to exercise more, take better care of our health, and help us to sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking up in the morning. The second category of benefits are psychological. Gratitude can bring higher levels of positive emotions to the surface and allow us to feel more alert, alive, and awake. Joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness are all associated with gratitude. The final category is social; gratitude can help us to feel more helpful, generous, and compassionate. It can also help us feel more forgiving and, over time, can help us to feel less lonely or isolated. Significantly, gratitude is a social emotion and strengthens relationships. It requires us to not only see things that we are grateful for but also to see how we’ve been supported by other people. 

According to researchers, gratitude has two parts. Firstly, it’s an affirmation of the good things in your life, the world around you, and for the gifts you have received. When navigating challenging times, some question the purpose and practice of gratitude and argue that this is perhaps a form of toxic positivity. However, cultivating gratitude doesn’t mean that you ignore challenges or deny any negative emotions that you might be feeling. What it actually does is intentionally help us to look for the good things allowing more balance to our thoughts and feelings. 

The second part of gratitude is about recognising where that good comes from and then acknowledging that others help us in big and small ways along the way. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but true gratitude can involve dependence on others; we acknowledge that other people give us many gifts, big and small, that help us to achieve what is good in our lives. 

The transformative effects of gratitude

There are four key reasons shown in research that explain why gratitude can have such transformative effects on people’s lives: 

Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present and in doing so, it helps us to magnify positive emotions. Research on positive emotions shows that they can wear off quickly; this is what Dr Rick Hanson calls the Velcro Teflon effect (the positive emotions slide off us like Teflon and negative emotions stick to us like velcro). Our emotional systems actually like newness and novelty, and even change in small amounts. We adapt to positive life circumstances such as a new car, or a new job, and can start to take things for granted. These things start to feel not quite so new and exciting anymore. So, practising gratitude makes us appreciate something, and when we appreciate the value of it we can extract more benefits from it and are less likely to take it for granted. Instead of adapting to goodness, we get to celebrate and savour it instead. 

Gratitude blocks difficult emotions like envy, resentment, or regret which decrease happiness. Our brains can’t hold two competing strong emotions at the same time. It’s not possible for you to feel envious and grateful at the same moment. So, if you’re grateful, you can’t resent someone for having something that you don’t. And research suggests that those who have high levels of gratitude actually have low levels of resentment and envy. 

Gratitude promotes stress resistance with several studies showing that when faced with serious trauma, adversity and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly. Gratitude allows them the perspective to simply interpret those negative life events and help them work through them. It can also guard against post-traumatic stress and lasting anxiety. For me, when I started to explore the science of wellbeing back in 2015 I was recovering from a difficult health situation and I found gratitude really helped me to be able to work through this situation. 

Grateful people tend to have a higher sense of self-worth as when you are grateful, you feel that someone else is looking after you or helping with your wellbeing. If you’re able to notice the network of relationships, past and present, and the people that are supporting you, the contributions that other people have made to your life, and how much they see value in you, then over time it can transform the way you see yourself as well. 

Gratitude practice – 7 strategies

The real power of gratitude is experienced when you have a consistent and regular gratitude practice. Some studies indicate that if you practice gratitude for 21 days in a row it can be enough to re-wire your brain to scan the world not just for the negatives, but for the positives first. There are 6 different strategies that you could try to help you cultivate your own gratitude practice and number 7 focuses on what you can do to foster gratitude within a team. You certainly don’t have to do them all, but have a go at the ones that appeal to you. 

1. Gratitude journal

This is one of the most common ways to promote gratitude. All you need is a pen and a pad (and if you’re like me, you could use this opportunity to treat yourself to a new one). At the end of the day take some time to write down 5 things that you feel grateful for. These can be big or small things, but the goal is to just remember a good event, experience, person, or thing in your life and savour the positive emotions that come along with it. 

If you struggle with journaling (I do!) or struggle to be consistent, a top tip is to try writing regularly. So, whether you’re writing every other day or once a week, commit to a regular time to journal and then honour that commitment – it doesn’t have to be daily. In fact, some evidence suggests that writing just one to three times a week is possibly more beneficial than daily journaling. The other top tip here is that specificity is the key to fostering gratitude. So, rather than just saying that you are grateful for a friend, instead you might be grateful that they called you when you were feeling down today. It’s important to have depth over breadth, so it’s better to write down one to three things with detail than a superficial list of 10. 

2. Five senses, five things

This is a really quick gratitude boost! Check-in with your senses – sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, and name at least one thing that you are grateful for using each sense. What can you smell? What can you touch? What can you hear? What can you taste? What can you see that you’re grateful for? 

3. Send a thank you

Ask yourself, who do you admire? Who has inspired you in leadership or life? Who has encouraged you in times of joy, or in times of challenge? Then, let them know. It could be a friend, a family member, a leader, someone you know well, or someone you know from afar. Whatever the case, call them up, send them a message, write a card and send them a little bit of gratitude and love today. It will also give them feel good factors. 

4. Look for the good

I love this quote from Abraham Hicks, “If all you did was just look for the things to appreciate, you would live a joyous and spectacular life”. It’s so true. For this strategy, set yourself a mini gratitude challenge. Make a conscious effort to look for the good, and then notice how you feel and the impact it had. 

5. Mental elimination

Sometimes a common response when trying to bring in more gratitude to leadership and life is that people can’t think of anything to be grateful for. Sometimes it can be a real struggle, which happens to me as well. So, for this strategy, firstly, think about something that’s really good in your life from the areas of health, education, learning, your security, weekends, holidays, personal achievement, things that you own, your friends and family. Then, take a moment to imagine what your life would be like without that one great thing. How would it impact your life? How would you feel? And write down your ideas and explore what shifts for you in your thinking. 

6. Take a photo

If writing is not your thing, then this strategy might work better for you. Simply take a picture of something that you appreciate and try to do this every day. It could be beauty in nature, a picture of a pet, a loved one, or your favourite spot in your living space. If you have extra time you could take photos throughout the day. At the end of the day go through them and savour all the good feelings that come up. You could do this at the end of the week as well. 

7. Gratitude for teams 

There are three strategies in one here! Firstly, there is the use of a positive primer. At the start of a team meeting go around the table and ask people to share something that they’re grateful for, or perhaps something that has made them smile on that day. You might also finish a meeting by sharing something that you appreciate or are grateful for in the others who attended the meeting. This is super simple, doesn’t need any preparation, but gives a huge boost of positive emotions to your team. 

The second idea here is a gratitude jar. All you need is an empty jar, strips of paper, and a pen, all set up in your team room. If you have a virtual team, you could do this on an online scrapbook, Google Form, or something similar. Throughout the week you write down things that you’re grateful for – things that you see and hear in your team – and pop them in the jar. Then, at the start of a meeting, everyone can pull out a strip of paper and read out the things that you’re grateful for as a team over the course of that week. I’ve done this with my teams and it’s great fun! It gives a real boost of positive emotions which, remember, helps to promote creativity, problem-solving, and decision-making. What a great way to start a meeting!

Finally, you could create a gratitude shout-out board. In my last school, we created one in the staff room. Throughout the week teachers and support staff could grab a Post-it note and a pen and write a note of gratitude to a colleague and then stick it on the board. Every Monday morning I would gather them up and read them out at the start of our briefing session. It was a wonderful way to start the week; a real celebration and appreciation of each other. 

Have a go! See what works for you and try to harness the power of the wellbeing superpower that is gratitude! 

P.S. I’m super grateful to you for reading this today. Thank you!