By Nicole Wood
I can’t say that I’m one of the more expressive people you’ll meet. Compliments make me uncomfortable (giving and receiving). I have to consciously remind myself to check in with people and how they’re doing before I jump right into business. I’m told I’m a terrible gift recipient; I don’t know how to convincingly and authentically show it even when I absolutely love the gift.
So… all that to say, this article is as much for me as it is for you.
No matter how awkward or unnecessary it may feel, verbally expressing gratitude and positive feelings in general toward those you care about is always a good idea. That might be at work, at home or even with a casual acquaintance like your office’s maintenance staff or the Starbucks employee who always gets your order just right. We all want our efforts to be seen and appreciated, and without this being expressed, very directly, we can often feel unappreciated.
When I do combat my natural tendencies and manage to do this successfully, it’s never as scary as it seems, and it’s always worth it. When I see someone’s body language shift and can feel how much my words mean to them, I can’t believe I almost didn’t say them. This is especially important to me as a leader, as my hard-working team is always seeking and deserving of reassurance and gratitude from me.
This isn’t just my opinion, however. There is scientific evidence which supports the notion of expressing gratitude and its benefits on health and wellbeing.
Gratitude helps to extinguish toxic emotions. When you focus on gratitude, you shift your attention away from negative emotions like resentment and envy. Negative emotions like these drain your energy and don’t serve you in a productive way. Focusing your thoughts and attention toward gratitude instead can help shift your mindset toward the positive and lower your stress levels. Something as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for when you’re having that moment of self-pity at the end of a difficult day can be extremely powerful. I even like to think about things and people I’m grateful for when I lie down for bed at night. What a great way to drift off into sleep!
The benefits of gratitude amplify over time. Many other positive activities see a decrease in impact on mental health over time. Gratitude, however, is the opposite. The benefits accrue over time which is why ongoing gratitude habits are so powerful. If you’re anything like me, the practice becomes easier over time too. That first time you have an open and vulnerable conversation with a colleague or loved one, it can feel extremely uncomfortable and difficult to find the right words. Over time, it becomes more natural, and your opening up can lead to a reciprocation from others. There is an exponential effect.
Gratitude creates a lasting impact on the brain. Practicing gratitude increases the brain’s sensitivity to the gratitude emotion, leading to improved mental health and well-being into the future. Think of it like this, the first time you hear classical music, it might all sound the same to you. But if you keep listening to it, you’re more sensitive to the differences and can more easily distinguish the composers. Gratitude works in a similar way. The more gratitude you display, the more sensitive your brain becomes to it which can lead to increased mental health benefits over time.
Just this Thanksgiving, I was visiting my family back in my hometown, a Philadelphia suburb. I got into one of those deep conversations that usually only happens on those rare occasions (and with a couple glasses of wine) with a cousin of mine. We talked about how much we appreciate each other. We talked about how we wished we were closer. We talked about how we wished our moms (sisters) could find the words to have a similar conversation. Why does it take a holiday dedicated to giving thanks for us to express gratitude and appreciation for the important people in our lives?
It’s said that feeling gratitude for someone and not telling them is as pointless as buying a gift and not giving it. Don’t let your genuine feelings of gratitude for others go to waste.
If you see someone trying, say it.
If you appreciate someone stepping up to help you when you’re overwhelmed, thank them.
If you’ve noticed someone’s growth, commend them.
If you see someone struggling, tell them you stand with them.
If you’re proud of someone’s accomplishments or behavior, applaud them.
If you’re simply glad someone is in your life, speak it.
You may feel that people already know. That it’s obvious how much you appreciate them. But people aren’t mind readers. They have no idea the extent to which you care. And when they don’t know, they make assumptions.
Be generous with your gratitude and your words. Some things aren’t better left unsaid.
Nicole is the CEO and one of the co-founders of Ama La Vida, created to be the first coaching organization to provide a platform for coaches who want to focus their time on coaching and amplifying their impact instead of on business administration. She has a background in management consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers and been featured in publications like Fortune, Bustle, Monster.com and Yahoo, as a thought-leader. Nicole originally hails from Philadelphia, but currently lives in Chicago with her husband and 3 dogs. Learn more about Ama La Vida by visiting the website.