What Are You Grateful For?

December 23, 2013

By: YaLe Lim

“My family and friends.”

“The opportunity to study and further my passion at the University of Michigan.”

“For God.”

Gratitude is such an abstract notion. It is intangible, and in all honesty, it makes me wonder if the act of being grateful serves a purpose. From Associate Professor Lea Waters’ POS Research Incubator, however, I gleaned that being thankful is pivotal to success and happiness in our work and lives.

Why study gratitude? Assc. Prof. Waters (University of Melbourne) replied to this question in the context of organizations, and her answer left a deep impression on me. Research[1] has shown that feeling unrecognized or undervalued at work is in fact the second greatest factor contributing to work stress. In addition, Americans are the least likely to be grateful to their coworkers[2]. This means that a huge amount of dissatisfaction in the United States is due to non-acknowledgement of effort by coworkers and bosses.

But think about it – what is the cost of a word of appreciation or an encouraging smile? In truth, they do not cost anything at all. As a matter of fact, showing these small displays of gratitude will make us happier too! (Ever felt a warm glow when you brighten someone’s day with an encouraging word?) These realizations astonished me, and I was compelled to observe people and learn more about this (unfortunately elusive) topic of gratitude. I have identified a few contributing factors and rewards of showing appreciation, and will now share the most salient of each.

Factor: Religion

I must begin by stating that I am not a religious person, and am unclear of my spiritual beliefs. Thus, I aim not to preach, but to share my observations.

Over the past week, I have found that my religious friends are the people who show the most gratitude. Not only are they appreciative to people in their lives, but I realized that they were grateful for the little things as well. As Professor Waters mentioned, there are many things in life to be grateful for, and it could be the simplest thing such as being thankful to feel the sunshine on your back.

So why are my religious friends most inclined to express thankfulness? Perhaps religion leads one to think about the meaningful aspects of our lives, causing one to appreciate their presence more?

Reward: An enhanced perspective

Undoubtedly, I have found the grandest reward from expressing gratitude to be an enhanced perspective. Expressing appreciation is like giving a part of yourself to another, which leads to the opening of one’s mind to another person’s thoughts and emotions. Thus, the act of expressing gratitude forges meaningful connections with those around us, and ultimately expands one’s perspective of the world.

Gratitude is such an abstract notion with intangible rewards. As such, it runs the risk of being forgotten and overlooked in our daily lives. However, showing thankfulness is essential in living a purposeful and meaningful life. Small expressions of gratitude accumulate and really do make this world a better place.

[1] Professor Jean-Paul Brun on employee recognition

[2] Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_ways_to_cultivate_gratitude_at_work