In 2010 I left my corporate position of more than 20 years. Looking back, which I do often, is one of the best ways for me to live in gratitude.
I am grateful for the time it allowed me to rediscover who I am, the opportunity to reconnect with family and close friends and, most importantly, I am grateful for the push it gave me to step outside of my comfort zone and into a world full of people, places and things I hadn’t realized I wanted to experience.
These last eight years have been wonderful and more full of joy and happiness than I ever imagined, particularly for a time that could have been viewed as dark and uncertain. The years have been full of change, new friends, a new place to call home, new experiences, incredible opportunities and, most importantly, a new career. I know today it is the work I had been walking toward my whole life, and I am grateful for the ongoing journey and key learnings which allow me to do what I do.
I have had the good fortune to work with more than 4,000 people in this space called “career transition” and a common thread for all of us who successfully manage through change is gratitude. Here’s what some of the experts say:
- Physical, mental and emotional benefits. The science and statistics behind gratitude’s benefits are stronger than ever. According to Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D, Education Director of Cincinnati’s VIA institute on Character, gratitude is linked to stronger immune systems, lowered blood pressure, greater compassion and lower stress levels. Like other emotions, gratitude releases a rush of dopamine in the brain that makes us feel great in mind and body.
- It makes you smarter. “Feeling good lubricates mental efficiency, making people better at understanding information and using decision rules in complex judgments,” writes psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book Primal Leadership.
Once you’ve mastered the art of gratitude, it becomes second nature but it does take practice because we aren’t hard-wired to “be” grateful. Here are a few ways you can cultivate gratitude on a regular basis:
Daily compliment – either directly compliment a person or share your appreciation of something (“I love how quiet it is in the morning, don’t you?”).
Gratitude Journal or List – Write down what you are grateful for every day. If you’ve never done this, it might feel “awkward” or forced but after just a couple of days of jotting down things you might have taken for granted, you should notice a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. If you’re not the journal type, start your day by mentally listing (or jotting down on a sheet of paper or post-it) 3 things you’re grateful for today – ex., the sunshine, a great cup of coffee, a midday workout or walk, your pet, your spouse, etc. Or, end your day by listing 3 – 5 things you were grateful for – traffic was light, dinner was delicious, your day was productive.
Gratitude Jar or Wall – Centrally locate a large jar in your home and place a supply of small slips of paper near the jar. Have everyone write down what they are grateful for daily and review throughout the year as a reminder. If you have a bulletin board or space on a wall or fridge, place gratitude notes there for all to see. Families can use this approach with children by having everyone share one great thing about their day during dinner time – or in the car, commuting to and from practices or appointments. At work, try encouraging team members or colleagues to implement this practice.
Candle Ritual – During special family gatherings, ask each person to light a candle while expressing what makes them grateful.
(Re)-Connect With Gratitude – Contact someone who made a positive difference in your life, long ago or just yesterday, and tell them how much you appreciate(d) their support, laughter, reassurance or friendship. They’ll be touched and you’ll be glad.
Free-flowing gratitude can help you get un-stuck from the things that rankle you – what isn’t going right, fear of the unknown and other thoughts that create negative thinking. Being grateful, on the other hand, shifts the paradigm to good. When we think about positive things that are happening to us – big and small – we feel good. And when we feel good, it makes other people want to feel that way.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. There’s no better time than NOW to start creating this incredible habit! How do you express gratitude?