Which happiness habits would have the greatest impact on individual and organizational productivity?

By: Hanlie van Wyk

This is part of The BRATLAB ‘Habit Prescription Dose Value’ Series

We can all be ungrateful from time to time. It often starts by taking things for granted, feeling entitled or complaining about what we have. We may indulge in feeling ‘deprived’ or we focus on a ‘lack of’ which drives us to always want and strive for more, rather than acknowledging and appreciating what we have.

How can we avoid sliding down that slippery slope?

Gratefulness is defined as a “feeling of thankful appreciation for favors received” (Guralnik, 1971, as cited in Watkins, 2003) and is also known amongst psychologists as gratefulness affect. This is different from trait gratefulness which is a predisposition to experience that state. The distinction indicates that we can practice feeling more grateful even if we are not naturally predisposed to it, and herein lies an opportunity for beneficial change.

In the Behavioural Research and Applied Technology Laboratory, we have researched nine happiness habits that could improve productivity and divided them into three categories: Foster, Focus, and Savor. In this series for NWI, we explore the nine happiness habits and examine the value that each one can bring. We are on the first of three habits that make up Savoring Happiness which is practicing Gratitude!

Practicing Gratitude

Daily and weekly gratitude exercises have been shown to reliably improve mood, feelings of happiness and hope. Writing down three things to be grateful for increases happiness by 5%, while writing a note or letter of gratitude for 8 to 10 minutes a week increases happiness by 10%.

When examining blood flow in various brain regions when subjects summoned up feelings of gratitude, researchers found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls many essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking, sleeping and plays a role in metabolism and managing overall health. It is also associated with improving physical health, including fewer aches and pains, and better sleep.

What might come as surprise is that being ungrateful was rated as one of the most negative traits in one study and was significantly associated with reduced likeability! While being grateful has benefits, be warned that being ungrateful can lead to you becoming much less attractive as a friend and colleague.

Gratitude enhances the experience and retrieval of positive events as well as your engagement with social networks. It reduces social comparison, preventing and reducing negative affect (like envy, resentment, frustration, and regret) and aggression. Finally, it enhances empathy and increases self-esteem and mental strength.  Who would not want that!?

There are four dimensions to consider when practicing being grateful:

  • Increase the Intensity: grateful people show more intensity around positive events than do less appreciative people.
  • More is better: individuals with a higher disposition for gratitude more frequently express grateful behavior than do individuals less inclined to be grateful.
  • Live life to the full: grateful people have a greater number of life circumstances, for which they are thankful, such as family, job, and health.
  • Include everyone: grateful people tend to be grateful towards a larger number of persons for a single positive outcome or life circumstance. 

Applying gratitude at work: Appreciation and Recognition

Gratitude requires an appreciation of the positive aspects of your situation, not a comparison. Noticing what other people don’t have may help you see what you can be grateful for, but you have to actually show appreciation for what you have for it to have an effect. Grateful individuals appear to be less narcissistic, tend to have an internal locus of control, and a ‘sense of abundance’. They appreciate common everyday pleasures in life and are quick to acknowledge how others have contributed to their success or wellbeing.

One way to express gratefulness is to appreciate and recognize those around you. Employers showing recognition and appreciation for employees are reported to:

  • Have higher employee retention rates
  • Have 11% higher revenue per employee
  • Enjoy improved rates of customer retention.

Thus grateful employers may contribute to employee productivity through recognition programs. By showing goodwill and generating gratitude in customers, companies can improve customer loyalty.

Any organization looking to evaluate the impact of investing in these habits or wanting to understand more about how to create happy, healthy, and change-ready cultures should try our courses on behavior change or contact Change Craft at hello@changecraft.consulting.

Hanlie is a behavioral change expert, systems strategist, author, and PhD candidate for Hate Crime Studies. Her fascination with human behavior started while growing up in South Africa. From working to prevent hate crime to humanizing the workplace, her career spans three decades and four continents researching and applying behavioral change strategies to some of the most challenging behavioral problems. As Director of Change for Change Craft (powered by Behavioral Research and Applied Technology Laboratory) she studies, develops, and applies agnostic systems and practices that make change sticky, and results in high performing individuals and cultures.