Making Work Flow Easier As I Learn Gratitude The Hard Way

November 16, 2010 / General /

By Shawn E. Quinn


In this entry you will find:

  • The benefits of gratitude for your professional and personal life (particularly when you do not feel grateful)
  • Specific, practical suggestions about how to become more grateful and claim those benefits
  • Illustrations of these principles


Recently, I got frustrated by an email.  I quickly wrote an angry reply, but I decided to erase it instead of sending it. I knew that it would not be helpful in the long run.  I ended up erasing six different replies. I was stewing. I knew that my email replies would not help the situation, and I knew that this was because I was still angry. I knew I would not be able to see how to work productively with this person—achieving a better outcome and improving the relationship—until I felt differently. But how could I do that?


I teach Positive Organizing concepts all of the time, but I find that I must constantly work at applying these concepts because making them a part of who I am is a life-long process. One concept that has been on my mind recently is gratitude. When I am at work, focusing on my tasks, gratitude is seldom the first thing I think about as a tool for helping me be successful.  I am learning, though, that it may, in fact, be one of the most crucial tools we have.

Consider the following insights from research on gratitude. Research participants who kept gratitude journals, participated in gratitude treatments, made lists of things they were grateful for, or otherwise made efforts to increase their gratitude:

  • exercised more regularly
  • reported fewer physical symptoms
  • felt better about their lives as a whole
  • were more optimistic about the upcoming week
  • made more progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period
  • were more likely to help someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support
  • have more positive attitudes toward school and their families
  • have higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress
  • place less importance on material goods
  • are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated
  • are less envious of others
  • are more likely to share their possessions with others

And, when people are grateful, they do all of these things without denying or ignoring the negative aspects of life.


So what does this look like in action? Consider two simple stories.

Story #1

A couple of weeks ago I had a call with 3 executives who shared their success stories with each other, based on the actions they committed to when they finished our Positive Leadership course.  One of these people is the President of the American division of a large tier one auto supplier.  One of his commitments was to meditate for 10 minutes every morning to clear his mind and then to write in a gratitude journal for a few minutes to start his day.

At first, as he began to keep this goal, he felt a little silly. Many negative thoughts would flow to his mind while he tried to think of things to be grateful for. He would think of the person who had to back out of a meeting and rescheduled everyone’s calendars in the wrong way which created all kinds of difficulties for him. The executive would stop and analyze the negative thought and look for ways to be grateful instead. He recognized that this person was hard working, well meaning and didn’t intentionally try to make things difficult for people.  He started to realize that people who got in his way that worked for him were not coming to work thinking they were going to try to ruin his day.

As my colleague continued this practice, he began to see many of the people in the division differently.  He became more grateful for them, treated them accordingly and found that these people started working with more effort, quality, and commitment as a result. Over time he literally started seeing more of what was right around him rather than always seeing what was wrong.

Story #2

Recently, my father has begun selecting one thing he is grateful for each day and writes 3-4 paragraphs about that single thing he is grateful for, and why. He sends it out in an email to all of his children and their spouses. His emails are rich with meaning and impact me. Often, we respond by sharing reactions or things that we are grateful for. These emails change the way I start each day, and often change my behavior during the day. I have also begun writing a journal in a similar way.

Tools for Application

Kim Cameron often shares the following practices with executives to help them experience gratitude more often:

  • Take time right now to write down three things that have occurred today for which you are grateful.  Make a habit of keeping a gratitude journal by recording three things each day.  Encourage your family or colleagues to do the same.
  • Identify a person who has provided assistance to you, served as a role model, provided opportunities, or supported you in the past.  Take two minutes to write a note of gratitude to that person, and plan to send it in the next day.Hand out five gratitude cards—or verbal expressions of appreciation—each day to individuals with whom you interact.  Have cards available each morning when you arrive at the office or begin your day.
  • Hand out five gratitude cards—or verbal expressions of appreciation—each day to individuals with whom you interact.  Have cards available each morning when you arrive at the office or begin your day.
  • Spend 15 minutes each day alone contemplating what undeserved gifts, advantages, or blessings you have received.  Make sure this time is uninterrupted and focuses on the positive in your own life and experience.
  • Positively embarrass someone today.  Compliment them in public before others who care.

Gratitude When It Is Hard

With all of these tools in place, being grateful should be easy, right? I find that gratitude makes my life easier, but gratitude is not always easy to feel—especially when things happen to me—like unhelpful or even obtrusive emails from colleagues. But I have also found that it is often in the moments when I feel least grateful where gratitude is most beneficial.

As I struggled with how to respond to my colleague, I stopped to think about this colleague more particularly. I recognized that the project I was working on was not as high of a priority for him as it is for me. When I thought of his other commitments, I also realized that if I were in his shoes, the project would not be as high on my priority list either. My colleague is stressed about his many projects and is kind to participate with me this one. As I started to think about all of the different things he has done for me, or others I’m aware of, just to be kind and helpful, my feelings toward him started to change and I felt gratitude toward him and gratitude in general.  I wrote him an email, stating that I understood that this was not a high priority for him and that I was grateful for his help because the participants would benefit and it would probably create work for a few of us who work with him.  I then listed a number of times he had helped just to be kind and thanked him for his help.

I sent that email to acknowledge his stress and to help him feel free to get to my project when he was ready and able. I did it to free him up and to put myself in a better emotional place for working the rest of the week. And I did feel much better. Two hours later, though, my colleague sent me an email with the work that I needed for my project—completed. I was very surprised and even more grateful.

Working from a state of gratitude helps us to see resources that we didn’t think existed.  It allows us to approach and influence others with more effectiveness and ultimately get things done that otherwise would not have gotten done.  And it keeps us from stewing and being reactive to others. Gratitude makes us more effective in all aspects of our work.