Why you should say thank you more often at work, backed by science

I know what you’re thinking.

Oh great, Daniel’s going all zen and touchy-feely on us.

Trust me, you’ll be saying thanks (see what I did there?) to me when you reach the end of this article.

Because this article won’t make you feel good—not until you start to put the pointers into practice, anyway.

After poring through the research of top neuroscientists and psychologists, I can safely say that gratitude and appreciation at the workplace will immensely benefit you—and those around you—both physically and mentally, giving you a more positive outlook on life.

And why is that so critical to us?

We’re All Unhappy

As CNBC puts it, Singapore workers “are an unhappy bunch.” Three-quarters of employees in Singapore, they report, view their job “only as a way to make a living and nothing more.”

Add on the fact that Singaporeans work the longest hours in the world—an average of 2,402.4 hours a year—and you have a country of people spending a lot of their time being unhappy.

That’s pretty sad, to say the least.

And as simple as it sounds, gratitude might just be the key to turning those frowns into smiles.

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The Effects of Gratitude

Why You Should Show Gratitude Often at Work, Backed by Science
Image from Flickr

In 2009, a group of researchers took a close look at what happens to blood flow in various parts of the brain when their subjects felt gratitude.

What they found was “higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus,” which is the brain region which controls many essential bodily functions. It also “activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for making us feel good.

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Neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb concludes:

From this evidence on brain activity it starts to become clear how improvements in gratitude could have such wide-ranging effects from increased exercise, and improved sleep to decreased depression and fewer aches and pains […] Gratitude can have such a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle.

In another study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Mike McCullough, a group of participants were asked to keep a short journal, and were randomly assigned to record one of two things: things they were grateful for, daily hassles that displeased them.

Another neutral group was instructed to list five events that affected them, but were not specifically told to focus on positive or negative matters.

The result:

Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25% happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.

The icing on the cake was that participants in the gratitude group “also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more technically, their “pro-social” motivation.”

The simple act of noting positive things for just ten weeks thoroughly changed the perspective for those involved in the latter study. Not only did they feel better about their lives, but they also started making the lives of those around them better, too.

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Take Baby Steps

Why You Should Show Gratitude Often at Work, Backed by Science
Image from Flickr

Now, I’m not asking you to go around hugging your colleagues at work (please don’t). There’s no need to be extravagant about it. As we’ve seen, even the simple things can accumulate and make profound changes.

Start by being mindful of your thoughts and behaviour at work.

When you feel like there’s too much work on your plate, be grateful that you actually have work to do and money to earn.

When talking to your colleagues,use positive words instead of negative ones—even when you feel like strangling them. Affirm them when they do well, and help them when they don’t.

By the way, it doesn’t count if you’re passive-aggressive about it. Saying “I’m thankful that I’m not as bad as Jack” just doesn’t work (sorry, Jack).

Make it a point to see the good around you, and you can be sure that your perspective of the world will change along with each thank you and well done you give away. Be generous with those.

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