Emotional resilience at work - Articles

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4. What is gratitude and why care about it?

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. Author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".

Gratitude is not a new concept. It has been around for thousands of years. However, it is only recently that scientific studies have been devoted to it and the benefits to be gained from developing it have been scientifically identified.

As a consequence, I now include it in my emotional intelligence and EQ courses and master-classes, and in my own daily practice.

Why? Well, for one reason: Robert Emmons has found that after only 3 weeks of keeping a gratitude journal, people develop more energy and sleep better. What more do we need?

There will be more about how to use a gratitude journal and how to practise gratitude in a later article on emotional intelligence; for now let's answer the question "What is gratitude?".

Once you understand what gratitude really is you can begin to gain the benefits from it in your life. Now that's being emotionally intelligent.

What is gratitude? It is a feeling.

When I was a child my parents instilled in me the need to write thank you letters for any presents I received. It was a good practice and one I dutifully followed. I still write thank you letters to this day. However there is a difference, now I have the feeling of gratitude to go with the thank you.

There is more to gratitude than just the words "Thank you", there is also a sense of appreciation, a feeling of gratefulness. Gratitude is a positive emotion and not just a thought or an acknowledgment. It is meant and it is felt.

Feeling gratitude is an important emotion, and being able to feel and express gratitude is part of having emotional intelligence and EQ.



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What is gratitude? An appreciation of what you do have.

It is very easy in our lives to notice what we don't have and what is missing. This can spiral us down into negative and unpleasant emotions very quickly and easily.

Gratitude, in comparison, involves our focusing on what we do have and being thankful for it. We appreciate things that belong to us, the parts of our body that work, the food in our fridge, the money we receive, our car and the garage to keep it in, the clothes in our wardrobe, the partner whom we love, the father who lives nearby, the ring we inherited, the ergonomic chair we sit on, the office desk we work at, the Internet connection we have, and so on.

We appreciate and give thanks for the things we do have - that is what gratitude is, and it can help us develop our emotional intelligence and EQ by increasing our positive emotions, and thus, our emotional self-management.

What is gratitude? An acknowledgment of what's gone right.

Have you ever complained to a friend or colleague about the bad things in your life, about the things that have gone wrong, or the things people have said to you that have hurt? This can take people to a negative gloomy space in their lives. People can spend hours in staff rooms bitching and gossiping about everything that has gone wrong and it spreads negativity. This is not emotionally intelligent as it can be very destructive.

Gratitude, is the opposite. It is noticing, acknowledging and being thankful for the things that have gone right in our life each day.

There can be much that may go right in a single day. For example:

  • Our child gives us a loving hug and we are thankful.
  • Someone lets us change lanes when we are driving in heavy traffic and we feel grateful.
  • It rains and our dams fill with water and we are grateful.
  • An email notifies us of an important presentation by a visiting colleague and we are grateful.
  • The motion we proposed at a meeting is passed and we are grateful.
  • We get feedback from a job interview that will help us at future job interviews and we appreciate the honesty shown.
  • The chairman stopped someone from dominating a meeting and we appreciate how well the meeting has been run.
  • A colleague unjammed the photocopying machine, and we are thankful.
  • The committee finished early, and we appreciate the extra time.
  • The Board accepted our proposal and we are grateful that this has gone right.

Gratitude means we notice and express appreciation for what goes right in our life. It is so easy to gloss over these things and take them for granted. Imagine a staff room that ran on gratitude. Now that would be emotionally intelligent. How much gratitude and emotional intelligence is displayed in your staff room?

What is gratitude? An appreciation for the things that others do for us.

None of us live independent lives. You may think you can be autonomous and live without the support of others, but in fact it is not possible and none of us do. However, some of us take for granted what others do for us, and we come to expect to be serviced and provided for.

Gratitude is not like this. Instead, gratitude means that we notice and are grateful for the things that people do for us; not just the acts of personal kindness that people deliberately do for us, but the day-to-day things that happen with our barely noticing.

It may be that the garbage has been collected by the garbage collectors. How wonderful. Imagine how difficult your life would be if this didn't happen? Gratitude is acknowledging the value of such a service.

You turn on a tap and water comes running into your kitchen sink. You give thanks. This is only made possible by a group of people who build dams, lay water pipes and monitor the flow and provision of water. Without them you would not get water. Giving thanks and feeling appreciative of this kind of service is part of developing gratitude.

Each week or fortnight your salary appears in your bank account. You give thanks. How wonderful to have an employer who pays you and to have the people in your accounts department ensure it arrives as promised and on time. Thank you for the work you do.

I regularly give thanks for my flushing toilet. I have been camping without facilities and know what it is like not to have such a convenience. Thank you!

There are so many things that happen at work that we often fail to pay attention to, so many who help keep our organisation or business alive. Appreciating the things that others do can all help you build more positive emotions in your life, and thus develop increased emotional resilience and higher levels of emotional intelligence and EQ.

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What is gratitude? An appreciation that our lives are better than others.

How easy it is to feel sorry for ourselves, to feel that our lives are not good enough and that we are really hard done by. Stop for a moment, this is not gratitude, this is misery.

Gratitude, by contrast, is noticing how much worse off others are and appreciating and being thankful for our own lives, in comparison.

For example, you might go to the doctor because you have a pain and feel unwell, and may think there is nothing to be grateful for. You may then have to go and have a series of tests to find out what is wrong. You may dread them and feel anxious.

Stop for a minute. If you compared yourself to the women and children in Somalia who are living in makeshift camps, who have no food, water, doctors or medical supplies, you could find much to be grateful for and appreciate.

What would a mother in Somalia give to actually have a doctor to go to? To have access to medical tests to find out what is wrong? And to have treatment available to herself and her family?

When you stop and compare your life with those of others who are less well off than you are, and you express appreciation, then you have gratitude.

What is gratitude? It is a feeling of thankful appreciation and an acknowledgment of what you do have, of what goes right, and for the goodness and kindness in your life and work brought about by others.

How grateful are you?

Being grateful is an important emotion that can help you develop more positive emotions, your emotional intelligence and EQ, and your emotional self-management. How much gratitude and appreciation do you have?

How high is your emotional intelligence & emotional resilience?

There is so much that you can do to develop your emotional resilience and the E.I. Institute has a number of options to help you:

Worried that you don't have enough emotional resilience and that you need to develop your emotional intelligence more? Our unique, practical, 5-star emotional intelligence coaching package is available for you and includes the opportunity to have your emotional intelligence assessed. Boost your resilience now. Find out more here.