You may know what you want in life, but do you take time to appreciate what you already have? Nina Lesowitz, co-author of the new book The Grateful Life: The Secret to Happiness and the Science of Contentment, talked to Like A Boss Girls about how gratitude plays a key part of entrepreneurialism and getting ahead in business. Even if your to-do list is a mile long or you hate your job, chances are, gratitude can help.
What can gratitude do for a young entrepreneur trying to get a business off the ground?
When you’re in a state of thankfulness, you tend to be optimistic. When you’re not, you’re looking at all the obstacles and barriers. Neuroscientists say that our brains have a negativity bias – it’s basically a self-protective characteristic from the old days when we were hunters and gatherers, and we were always scanning for threats. Since we do have that tendency to think negatively, we need a tool to break out of that loop. Gratitude is a tool to help us rewire our brains to think positively. When you practice gratitude on a daily basis, it helps you to change your brainwaves, and that would really help a young entrepreneur, because you would get rid of all the mental barriers. It opens up your brain to think more positively.
Can gratitude help even if you’re struggling? For example, if you lose your job, or you’re in a job you don’t like?
In our books, we include interviews with people who’ve experienced some of the worst of what life can throw at you, including getting a diagnosis of cancer, losing your house, or getting fired. Being in a job where you feel stuck can send you into a spiral of depression, but so many of the people that we interviewed that were in these horrific situations – people in crisis, or people feeling stuck – found their way to happiness, and they said that gratitude was their lifeline out of despair. When they gave thanks for the people around them who were there to help them, they found that their lives improved. Focus on social connections. Social connection is so important to healing, and to mental health. The best way to strengthen your connectivity with others is to give thanks for the role that others play in your life.
Coworkers often bond by complaining to each other about their jobs. If you suddenly start being grateful for everything, is that going to alienate you from your coworkers?
I don’t think so. I used to be someone who’d try to out-complain everybody else – it was like a competition – and I was miserable. It didn’t help my state of being. It didn’t help me to rise up in the company. There have been studies that show that grateful people are more likely to get promoted. But as far as colleagues are concerned, what I find fascinating are all those studies about ripple effects. If you know someone who’s happy, it’s more likely to make you happy. If you have a happy friend of a friend, it increases your odds of happiness. These studies are fascinating, because if you really take that information in and practice it, you’re not just worried about your own state – you can actually look at it as a way to have a positive ripple effect.
How do you find time for gratitude if you have a never-ending to-do list?
What happens with gratitude is that it helps us be in the moment. When your mind is racing with your to-do list, you’re always living in the future. You’re thinking about what you have to do, and what you didn’t do. When you practice gratitude, you’re saying, “I’m appreciative of the breeze on my skin,” or “I’m appreciative to be living in this time, as opposed to back in the Middle Ages.” Whatever it is that you’re feeling thankful for, it puts you in the present moment, and it’s one of the easiest tools to do that. You don’t have to take an hour out of your day to meditate, you don’t have to join an organization – you’re just stopping and giving thanks and it puts you in the here and now.
How can gratitude help people move forward in their careers?
A lot of well known researchers have said that gratitude increases productivity on the job. I’ve read a lot about that, and it seems to make perfect sense that someone who is giving thanks and is appreciative is going to be more supportive in the workplace. I believe that in the old style of management, when men were just like Mad Men, and it was just business-business-business, people didn’t emphasize what were considered the more feminine qualities. What’s wonderful is that these qualities that have been attributed to the feminine – compassion, listening, emotional support – as it turns out, companies benefit from those. They contribute to the company’s success and your own personal happiness.
If you’re the boss, what’s the best way to show gratitude to the people working under you?
Be aware of it on a day-to-day basis, not just every six months or once a year during a performance review. I would think about it on a daily basis, so that when you interact with somebody, you acknowledge them. I think it makes a massive difference. Studies have also shown that in some cases that’s more important than even a raise. People want to be noticed and appreciated.
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