Gratitude: The Greatest Performance-Enhancing Substance

Three ways to practice gratitude.

Posted Nov 23, 2020

It’s late morning and an executive is sipping on his third cup of coffee for the day when he hears a phrase that leads to an eye roll. “I invite you to write down three things you are grateful for,” says Wendy Cole of iMastery, a boutique training consultancy in Melbourne, Australia.

According to Wendy, this is a somewhat common response when she arrives at the topic of gratitude in her Better Ways of Working workshop. Nonetheless, those eye rolls quickly turn to “aha!” expressions when the participants grasp just how powerful practicing gratitude can be. Participants consistently tell her that the gratitude exercise is their favorite part of the workshop.

What Is Gratitude?

So, what’s the big deal with being grateful? In a world that constantly bombards us with messages of “it’s never enough,” gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what we do have.

Practicing gratitude can have a powerful impact on us, fending off negativity acquired from setbacks and increasing happiness. Leading gratitude researcher Robert Emmons has noted, “Gratitude is the ultimate performance-enhancing substance.” When we express gratitude — as well as when we are on the receiving end of it — our brains release dopamine and serotonin, which make us feel good.

“Gratitude is the ultimate performance enhancing substance.”  —Robert Emmons

What Are the Benefits of Practicing Gratitude?

If being happier and less negative are not enough, consider some of the other outcomes of practicing gratitude:

  • Better Sleep. Practicing gratitude helps you sleep better. A study in the Journal of Health Psychology revealed that participants who kept a gratitude journal reported improved daily sleep quality. Similarly, another study found that gratitude predicted greater sleep quality as well as longer sleep duration. 
  • Job Performance. Want to perform at a higher level at work? Try gratitude! A study in Sustainability showed that workers who practiced gratitude performed at a higher level than their less grateful counterparts. In addition, they were also more satisfied with their jobs.
  • Romantic Relationship Health. A study of 62 romantically involved couples showed that practicing gratitude acted as a “booster shot” for the relationship, leading to increased relationship quality.
  • Work Stress. Practicing gratitude can be an effective tool for reducing work-related stress. One way this stress reduction is achieved is by building better relationships at work.

  • Workplace Behavior — A recently published study led by Lauren Locklear found that a 10-day gratitude journaling exercise reduced impolite behavior in the workplace. That is, coworkers noted that those who completed the gratitude exercise were less likely to engage in gossip and acts of workplace mistreatment, showing the benefits of gratitude journaling. 

Image Created at Canva by the Author
Source: Image Created at Canva by the Author

3 Ways to Practice Gratitude

If you’ve read this far, I bet you are now convinced — at least a little bit — of the benefits of practicing gratitude. Now it’s time to take action! Here are three easy ways to practice gratitude in your daily life.

1. Journaling/Listing. Writing down what you are grateful for is an easy way to practice gratitude. Journaling (or writing down a list) is the method often used in research studies that assess the effectiveness of practicing gratitude (for example, the study noted above on workplace behavior). And journaling is fairly quick and straightforward. Writing down what we are grateful for requires us to pay attention to the positives in our life.

  • Do this: Think about the past day, week, or month and write down 3-5 things you are especially grateful for. Some people journal every day while others do it weekly. Decide on how often you’d like to journal and go for it. Do not feel like you must journal every day. You don’t want this practice to become forced. Also, some prefer to use a structured gratitude journal while others simply type their thoughts down in a note on a smartphone. 

2. Gratitude Prompts. Unlike journaling, where you can think of anything you are grateful for, gratitude prompts give you a more focused direction when practicing gratitude. In this practice, a prompt is given and then we think about what we are grateful for in relation to the prompt. Example gratitude prompts include:

  • I am grateful for three things I see. 
  • I am grateful for these things in my city.
  • How is my life more positive today than it was six months ago?
  • Do this: Keep a list of 5-10 prompts in a place you frequent. This could be a sticky note on your work computer, a list taped to your bathroom mirror, or a list of prompts next to your coffee maker. Each time you visit that place — for example, the coffee maker each morning when you wake up — select a prompt and consider what you are grateful for while your coffee brews. Also, be sure to switch up your gratitude prompts every few weeks. A Google search for “gratitude prompts” showed 47 million results, so you’ll have a few to select from.

3. Note of Thanks. This final gratitude practice takes a little more work on our part, but it reaps benefits for us and the recipient. The idea is simple: Write a note to someone telling them how grateful you are for them. This could be a family member, coworker, friend, or even the barista who serves you at the local coffee shop. For example, I have sent notes of thanks to professors I had as an undergraduate (that was 20 years ago!) thanking them for the impact they made on my life. And as a college professor now, I have been the recipient of similar notes. I can tell you as both the sender and receiver, these notes really do make an impact.

  • Do this: Write a short handwritten note (or type an email) to the person as if you are addressing them in a face-to-face conversation. Then tell them one or two things they have done that you are grateful for. You do not need to write a lengthy essay…short and sweet will do it. Then send it their way. It’s that easy! Perhaps aim to send one note of thanks per month and go from there.

These three ways of practicing gratitude are a great way to begin cultivating gratitude in your life today.

Looking for one-on-one coaching that will help you increase your workplace performance and lead to a more fruitful professional life? Reach out to Russell for more information.