“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
— William Arthur Ward
Once again, the year is ending and many of us are out of breath. The stress of balancing work, family, faith, and friends over the holidays can be exhausting. We struggle to identify gifts to meet the needs of others, while we neglect our own needs.
During this season of giving let us take a deep breath and remember the special gift that benefits both the giver and the receiver — gratitude.
Breathing and gratitude are both two-step cycles. We breathe in oxygen and carbon dioxide is expelled. Gratitude also involves energy, as we breathe in goodness and have the opportunity to release our spirit through appreciation.
Gratitude – a gift of genuine appreciation with no strings attached. Nothing is expected in return. There is no receipt needed to return it.
For years I had expected something in return for my gifts of appreciation. A few years ago, I was at a board meeting sitting across the table from a young student at an expensive restaurant. She had been recognized as an outstanding leader by our organization and joined us for dinner. As our individual bills arrived, I could tell she was struggling to find the means to cover her tab.
I had a choice — engage or ignore. Standing up, I excused myself from the table indicating I had to go. As I departed, I found our server and paid for her meal. I left and did not look back.
You may think this was just a good deed and I was proud to pay her bill. This would be true, yet I surprised myself by not expecting a follow-up. In the past I would have returned to the table and waited for her to acknowledge my gift. My behavior reset is not perfect, but it has helped me become a better person and leader.
Dr. Robert Emmons is an expert on appreciation and his research has discovered that expressing thanks contributes to our overall sense of well-being. The result is we are more agreeable, forgiving, optimistic, healthy, and open in our relationships. The irony is our lives get richer when we send our gifts to others.
At work, gratitude needs to come from all directions — top, across, and down. Leader to follower, follower to leader, peer to peer, and employee to client. A gratitude loop of “I appreciate you.”
A survey by the John Templeton Foundation found 71% of those surveyed said they would feel better about themselves if their boss expressed more gratitude — 81% said they would work harder. The disconnect is people also indicated they were less likely to express gratitude at the office than any other place.
Three keys to exhaling your best to others:
Make a List – And Check it Twice
As the year ends, think of people who need your gratitude:
- The administrative assistant who navigated through the corporate mess to make your problems go away.
- Your boss who may not be perfect yet gives you the resources and room to be successful.
- Most importantly, your spouse or partner who understands and supports your professional needs.
Choose Gratitude over Appreciation
While a simple “thanks” is better than no acknowledgement, it often rings hollow. Take the time to reflect on the proper message. Gratitude tells the other person why you appreciate them and how they impact your life. Specific appreciation is always the greatest gift.
Cut the Strings
Human nature is filled with expectations, including expecting something in return when we do something for someone else. A good example is when you let someone merge ahead of you in your car, many expect a waving hand in the rear-view mirror. Gratitude is the act not the receipt.
I hope this message inspires you to share your good news with the most important people in your life. Unwrap the gift of gratitude — the workplace and world need your breath of fresh air.
Have a great week and a joyful holiday season!
Read to Lead
Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience – old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e-readers.
My December 2023 favorites:
Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald
A compelling memoir from a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist on his experiences as a preacher’s kid during the height of civil rights struggles in Birmingham, Alabama. He is dismayed that his father and other members of the Methodist Church did not publicly engage in the calls for injustice, choosing the path of silent dissent. He also explores social justice beyond the challenges of race, to his family personally learning to understand sexual orientation. A candid look into the dynamics of a family attempting to navigate the dynamic world surrounding them.
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
Indian Horse is the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy from northern Ontario who escapes his demons and rough childhood through hockey, only to succumb to alcohol after losing his joy for the game. The novel begins with Saul struggling with alcoholism and finds himself at a treatment facility. He is encouraged to share his story to find peace, so that he can “get on with life.” His tragic story reminds us we all have a story to tell, overcoming the obstacles we face in life, and the value of storytelling to help us look back to move forward.