It’s a new year and many of us will soon set then forget our new year’s resolutions. One of the challenges I have personally is to maintain a grateful and content attitude. In this field we get to experience some of the best perks of the modern life: the internet, building cool stuff, working for cool companies, and cool rewards like big paychecks.

In the next few posts, we plan to look at how we can foster a culture of happiness in our organizations and most importantly in ourselves.

Happiness starts in your head

No matter your situation, there is something positive about your life. Starting with the most obvious, you’re reading this on an electronic device connected to the Internet. It might sound silly, but when work or life gets hard, I start with the basics:

  • I have a job that pays on time
  • I get to buy a latte/americano every day from the coffee shop across the street
  • I get to use a MacBook to do my job

The goal is to document 3-4 unique items that I can be grateful for and appreciate. The mindset shift can short-circuit negative thinking and lead to quickly generating a list of 10 or more items that you’re really freaking happy about.

Gratitude changes your attitude

Within almost any part of every day, there is something you can be grateful for. Being grateful helps you change your perspective and realize that in spite of the daily problems or challenges we all face, there are many things we can be happy about.

I find that when I journal about the moments in my life that bring me joy, such as getting coffee with a friend at work or eating food at that new restaurant in town, my focus changes and my mood brightens. My interactions with other people improve and it’s easier to interact. Even Oprah (ref 1) recommends keeping a daily gratitude journal.

Gratitude is backed by research

In 2014, Forbes (Ref 2) compiled a list of scientific sources confirming that gratitude improves physical health, enhances empathy, and improves sleep. Harvard (Ref 3) has researched and shown a connection between gratitude and individual happiness. Harvard recommends keeping a gratitude journal, mediating and/or praying, and thanking coworkers.

Gratitude is most effective as a regular habit

I find that gratefulness has the most positive outcome on my life when it’s a daily habit. I make this habit happen every day at work. I have a recurring reminder scheduled and I fill out an Excel Spreadsheet with my four items, each with the same date and a short description.

This format helps me think about at least four happy things per day. If I’ve had a great day and want to add more, adding more rows in Excel is extremely easy. Keeping a regular journal like this helps me keep everything in perspective.

Gratitude should also be external

Gratitude should foster a happier attitude and outlook on life. Its impact on your health and well being is wonderfully helpful to you. Imagine the impact your better attitude could have on other people. How could you express gratitude towards other people?

Ideas:

  • Write thank you notes to specific people or team members you appreciate
  • Add a recognition section to your retrospectives
  • Publicly thank people at your stand up
  • Privately thank people by taking them to coffee and/or lunch

How have you embedded gratitude into your daily routine? How do you feel when you express or receive gratitude at work?

References

1) Oprah Gratitude

2) In Praise of Gratitude, Harvard

3) 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round

Blog post inspired by the work done by my coach over at Fit Soldiers