This is the first post in a six-part series focusing on the Six Dimensions of Wellness: emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Each post features a different dimension of wellness. This first post will discuss emotional wellness and the role that gratitude plays in strengthening emotional wellness.
When Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), stated in 1954 that “without mental health there can be no true physical health,” he ushered in the idea that mental and physical health are intimately linked (Maloney). Over the decades, science and medicine have proved his observation is more true than even Dr. Chisholm might have thought.
Emotional wellness is the ability to be aware of and accept feelings, have an optimistic approach to life, and learn and grow from experiences (UC Riverside). It means more than coping well with stress – although that is important. It means you see conflict as potentially healthy and rewarding, and you’re able to enjoy life despite its occasional disappointments and frustrations.
Mental and emotional health are closely intertwined with physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease experience high rates of depression (Bresnick). Alternatively, anxiety disorders can cause physical problems like difficulty sleeping and lack of appetite (Leonard). Wellness programs need to address these issues. So what’s an area of emotional wellness that you can help your employees strengthen through your wellness program?
This year, I am grateful for…
Sitting around the kitchen table stating what we are grateful for is something we typically do once a year during the holidays. But studies show that we should be practicing this much, much more often (Simon). Gratitude makes people happier by eliciting the relaxation response, as well as through strengthening relationships (Wellsource). It reduces toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret (Morin). Of all the attributes one can develop, gratitude is most strongly associated with mental health (Kamen). And unlike certain other elements of emotional wellness, being grateful is a choice we can all make every day.
Studies have shown that gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression (Morin). Study participants with more gratitude were less likely to retaliate when given negative feedback. Research also shows that grateful people experience less stress and are more resilient throughout traumatic events (Wellsource). One Berkeley study concluded after testing over a thousand people of all ages that beyond physical benefits, people who practice gratitude have higher levels of positive emotions and are more optimistic, helpful, and generous (Emmons).
Be the fearless leader
When you show that you’re grateful for your members and employees, this can have a reciprocal effect. When people feel appreciated they are more likely to have greater job satisfaction and it can contribute positively to their emotional wellness (Clarke). Former Campbell’s CEO Douglas Conant wrote 20 handwritten notes a day to employees showing his gratitude for their contributions to the company (Lebowitz). He did this for 10 years, which amounted to over 30,000 notes. Employees treasured these notes and it inspired them to return the favor by writing him hundreds of get-well cards when he was in a car accident in 2009.
There are other ways for population health managers to lead by example. Implement an employee of the month or year program. Hold annual, semi-annual, or quarterly appreciation lunches or picnics. Let your population know that you recognize their efforts, and you’ll have a more motivated, fulfilled, and happy population.
A little gratitude goes a long way
Gratitude is a social emotion. It strengthens relationships because it allows people to see how they’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. Encourage your population to keep a gratitude journal where they write down three things each day they are grateful for. Offer incentives for this as part of your wellness program. After just three weeks they will experience more joy and happiness (Emmons). Keep your own list too, and share some of the things on your list as you interact with employees throughout the day.
Pay it forward
After your members are shown appreciation from the top and see the benefit of reflecting internally about what they’re grateful for, encourage them to pass the gratitude on. Incorporate a “gratitude trophy” into your wellness program. When someone goes above and beyond to be helpful they can be recognized with the trophy, which they then keep until they have a particular reason to be grateful toward someone else. This way, the passing of the trophy is genuine and authentic—people pass it on because they feel compelled to, not because they’re prompted to follow a schedule. This type of program can work wonders for emotional wellness, not to mention productivity! After all, peer recognition is one of the most valued forms of recognition (Dickson).
Start a gratitude challenge
Ready to get started? Download our health challenge “Practice Gratitude” which includes:
- A basic quiz for participants to see how much they know about gratitude
- A touching example of how gratitude has served someone with tremendous obstacles in life
- The benefits of gratitude
- Tips on how to practice gratitude
- A calendar to track grateful thoughts each day
Wellsource, Inc. has been a premier provider of evidence-based Health Risk Assessments and Self-Management Tools for four decades, making us one of the longest-serving wellness companies in the industry. With a strong reputation for scientific research and validity, we offer an innovative family of products that empower wellness companies, health plans, ACOs, and healthcare providers to inspire healthy lifestyles, prevent disease, and reduce unnecessary healthcare costs. Our assessments connect lifestyle choices with healthy outcomes, measure readiness to change for maximum results, and drive informed decisions with actionable data.
“3 Population Health Strategies to Strengthen Emotional Agility.” Wellsource, 29 May 2018, blog.wellsource.com/population-health-strategies-strengthen-emotional-agility.
Bresnick, Jennifer. “Why Mental Healthcare Is Key to Population Health Management.” HealthITAnalytics, 8 July 2016, healthitanalytics.com/news/why-mental-healthcare-is-key-to-population-health-management.
Clarke, Lauren. “Clever Ways to Encourage Gratitude in the Workplace.” 6Q Blog, 23 Mar. 2018, inside.6q.io/clever-ways-encourage-gratitude-workplace/.
Dickson, George. “6 Unique and Powerful Benefits of Peer Recognition.” TINYpulse, 7 June 2016, www.tinypulse.com/blog/7-unique-and-powerful-benefits-of-peer-recognition.
Emmons, Robert. “Why Gratitude Is Good.” Greater Good, 16 Nov. 2010, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good.
“How Happy Are Your Participants?” Wellsource, 25 Feb. 2015, blog.wellsource.com/how-happy-are-your-participants.
“Is Workplace Stress Taking a Toll on Your Employee Wellness?” Wellsource, 22 Mar. 2018, blog.wellsource.com/workplace-stress-taking-toll-on-employee-health.
Kamen, Randy. “The Transformative Power of Gratitude.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 1 Apr. 2015, www.huffpost.com/entry/the-transformative-power_b_6982152.
Lebowitz, Shana. “How the Former CEO of Campbell Soup Used a Skill We All Learned as Children to Inspire Teamwork and Affection in His Company.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 1 Sept. 2016, www.businessinsider.com/why-leaders-should-show-gratitude-to-their-employees-2016-9.
Leonard, Jayne. “Physical Symptoms and Side Effects of Anxiety.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322510.php.
Maloney, Bill. “Mind Matters.” Science Museum of Minnesota, www.smm.org/sites/default/files/public/attachments/mindmatters.pdf.
Morin, Amy. “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 3 Apr. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude.
Simon, Harvey B. “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Men’s Health Watch, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
“University of California, Riverside.” Wellness: Emotional Wellness, wellness.ucr.edu/emotional_wellness.html.