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The amazing impact of practicing sincere gratitude

(EDITORIAL) Whether they’re a family member, a boss who gave our first big break, or a trusted colleague and mentor, we’ve all lost people important to us professionally or personally who are either no longer with us or with whom we’ve lost touch over the years. Don’t miss out on the chance to express your gratitude.

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Let’s start with a true story

His routine seldom varied. Up punctually each morning at 5:30, showered, shaved, and dressed by 6:00, and out the door for a morning cup of coffee at a local café by 6:15. Even on the weekends, the only change was that he’d make the coffee at home. So when he got up that Sunday morning, nothing seemed different. Different day, but same routine.

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Before your eyes

Looking at his wedding ring, he noticed that the skin of his hand looked different in the light that filtered through the kitchen window. Stepping into the breaking daylight on the back porch to confirm his initial suspicions, he noticed that what he thought he had seen was worse than initially thought. His skin had turned a jaundiced dull yellow, and it was everywhere he looked.

On the drive into the local hospital with his wife of nearly three decades, his mind began to scan for signs of what might be wrong. Sure he’d been a little more tired lately, but that was due to the hours he was working in establishing a new sales territory, right?

Everything was the same, except it wasn’t.

Once at the hospital, hope turned to horror as the doctors worked. “Your blood’s poisoned; had you come in here a day later, you’d have been gone for sure.” Test after test quickly followed, all pointing to the same result.

“You need to know that you’re going to die,” the surgeon told him. “At best, you’ve got a year with treatment, but it might be as quick as six months.” At that benediction, the cold chill that had been creeping over him gave way to a flash of anger and determination to fight and prove the surgeon wrong.

And wrong he was. Instead of six months, the rare cancer did its job in just under three, leaving me to bury my father before my 20th birthday.

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The important ones

Growing up in my career as a professional, I often wished for his advice and counsel, and found myself wanting to tell him just how much the formative lessons that he had taught me still stick with me today. As a child, you’re typically not inured to the thought that your parents might become ill or die one day, and that you’ll be unable to adequately show your appreciation for their advice and counsel over the years.

We’ve all had similar experiences. Whether they’re a family member, a boss who gave our first big break, or a trusted colleague and mentor, we’ve all lost people important to us professionally or personally who are either no longer with us or with whom we’ve lost touch over the years.

It’s important to take stock of our lives and the people in them before we let the time slip away.Click To Tweet

We’ve all got perfectly acceptable reasons for not letting those conversations of gratitude happen, on the surface at least. However, with a little probing into them, they crumble readily, proving to be more excuse than reason.

The power of gratitude

In the day-to-day routine of our lives, we’re often not told “thank you” for more than cursory exchanges. Holding the door open for someone might earn you a quick “thank you”, but a heartfelt expression of gratitude from a colleague or supervisor is rare in the workplace. This is despite research that solidifies the value of both receiving the thanks, as well as giving it.

In Janice Kaplan’s book The Gratitude Diaries, she identified that 70 percent of individuals in a research study responded that they would feel better about themselves and their efforts at work if their supervisor thanked them more regularly. We clearly want to be noticed and acknowledged for the things that we do; even if not in a public, self-serving way, a quiet expression of gratitude for what we’ve done for others is meaningful.

The interesting part is that despite an overwhelming majority of us enjoying that validation, we’re remarkably loathe to provide it; Kaplan notes that in the same study, only 10 percent of those surveyed said that they regularly showed gratitude to their co-workers or supervisors.

A boost of happiness

This is despite evidence that doing so, and doing so in writing pays amazing dividends to our own well-being. As noted in a Harvard University Medical School mental health bulletin, research by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, identified that the action of writing and delivering a letter of gratitude personally to someone who the writer felt had never been adequately thanked for their kindness, delivered impactful increases in happiness scores, more than any other activity tried in the research.

Not only did writing to someone to properly express gratitude provide a meaningful boost in happiness, but it also did so for an extended time, with benefits reported as long as a month after doing so.

Praise you like I should

For some of us, doing something so raw as writing a letter of heartfelt gratitude feels like a tad too much vulnerability. “Most people believe vulnerability is weakness, “said Dr. Brene Brown in her TED talk on the power of vulnerability.

“But really, vulnerability is courage. We must ask ourselves…are we willing to show up and be seen?”

It takes courage for us to open ourselves to write about what the contributions of someone else has meant to us—especially if there’s a chance that that person might be unaware of what a small act of kindness on their part actually meant to you.

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A gift twice given

However, it’s the opportunity to step outside of those insecurities that gives us the power to not only reap the benefits of being grateful, but also provides the recipient with the incredible gift to know that they were impactful in some way, especially if the event had happened in the past at some point.

A personal example of this happened over the holidays; out shopping with family, I was stopped by a person who looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite recognize. She went on to effusively thank me for helping her when she came to my office, telling me that it meant so much to her and she was so grateful to me for assisting her. I thanked her for telling me this, and assured her that it had been my pleasure.

As we walked away, my wife asked me what it was that I had done for her; I had to truthfully say that I didn’t really remember, but whatever it was didn’t stand out in my mind as being extraordinary in nature.

And there it was: a gift twice given.

I had, apparently, in the past given her assistance when she felt she needed it the most and was now able to tell me what that had meant to her. She had given me the gift of knowing that my work had, at least for her, meaning and value.

Making gratitude a part of your life

So how do we incorporate these types of events into our daily lives more often? Professionally, I did them by design. Once a year or so, my staff and I took the voluntary opportunity to anonymously let others know of the way that we appreciated one another. I took our staff roster and distributed it to everyone, with the instructions that it was totally voluntary, and that they could write as much or as little as they wanted. The goal was to identify the people on staff that they were grateful for, and, in a few lines, express exactly what they were thankful for about them.

The response was staggering every time, with close to 100% participation. Every single person on staff had at least one expression of gratitude given to them by a colleague, and many had several, often multiple sentences long. These were typed for anonymity and given to the staff in sealed envelopes so that they could read and experience them however they chose. Over time, it led to staff members being more willing to share their expressions of gratitude with their colleagues face-to-face and with increasing frequency.

So, when you sit down to write such a letter, what do you write and to whom do you send it?

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Opening up

Be comfortable with your level of vulnerability in thanking the person for something that meant much to you, and consider sharing with the person the reasons that it did. While not recommending that you overshare—sometimes the toothpaste can’t be shoved back into the tube, and some things might be a bit too personal — I would encourage you to be as honest as you can be as to why their action was meaningful. That allows the recipient to have context for why their actions or words were so meaningful to you.

And as far as the audience?

You can feel free to express your appreciation to anyone, for acts large or small.

The only caution I might suggest is that you make certain that you’re heartfelt in your desire to thank them, and that the acts were truly meaningful. Even if you’re sincere in your appreciation, a hastily worded letter that seems trite or overly saccharine about a commonplace nicety can come across as being insincere, causing more harm than the good that you intended.

Reflect, write, read, and send.

What happens next?

Gods do not answer letters

Or so John Updike wrote about famed Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams, who famously hit a home run in his last at-bat and did not return from the dugout once he’d rounded the bases, never acknowledging the adoring crowd chanting his name. You may never receive an acknowledgement from your reader once you’ve sent it.

That may sting. After all, you took the time to tell this person how much they mean(t) to you and how grateful you are for what they’ve done, and nothing?

And you’ve got to be okay with that. The purpose of this specific exercise wasn’t to establish a dialogue, but rather to tell someone that you appreciated them and their actions towards you. You’ve now done that, and you’ve got to provide room for your audience to experience their letter in their own way and own expression of it. The important thing is that you’ve done it.

So, this week, in a quiet moment, I’d challenge you to take a moment to reflect on the individuals in your life who’ve meant the world to you, or whom you appreciate, but they perhaps just don’t know it. Follow that reflection with action; after all, there’s no time like the present to erase that lack of knowing how special they truly are.

#PracticeGratitude

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note…so let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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Opinion Editorials

COVID-19 acts are unfortunately too short sighted

(BUSINESS NEWS) The biggest flaw in the CARES act is simply that it won’t last. Numerous issues have extended the life of COVID-19 but the act hasn’t matched it.

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The CARES act gives an additional $600 weekly to those on unemployment assistance. The idea being that, combined with the $380 already granted by unemployment, the payments would roughly equal the wage of the average worker prior to the pandemic- about $1,000 weekly.

But on July 31st, the expansion that CARES provides will expire, and benefits will return to pre-pandemic amounts. Those currently receiving the maximum payment will see a 61% decrease in their income. In states that offer lower benefit payments, that percentage goes even higher. All of this comes during a national rental crisis, and moratoriums on evictions across the country are also nearing their ends or being extended last minute.

This isn’t the first or only “yuge” hole in the federal government’s COVID-19 safety net. Many Americans (this writer included) have seen neither hide nor hair of their promised stimulus checks. The HEROES act, which is being billed as a second round of stimulus money, remains under debate- as it has been for several weeks.

And the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain businesses to provide two weeks of paid leave to workers who may be sick (or caring for someone who is) has plenty of problems too, namely the laundry list of exceptions to it.

This is just the most recent push to return to the pre-virus economy before effective protective measures have been put in place for workers and consumers alike. After all, with cases of COVID-19 spiking again in the US, it’s apparent that the act is still absolutely necessary. Our lawmakers either lack patience, or compassion – take your pick. Frankly, I say it’s both.

Not only have countless health experts warned that reopening too early will be disastrous, but if a second lockdown is in our future, all of the time, money, and human lives that went into reopening will be wasted.

There is a silver lining among the storm clouds on the horizon. Because ballooning unemployment has created long wait times for benefit applicants, unemployment assistance programs are shelling out retroactive back payments to those deemed eligible.

Good news, at least, for laid off workers who have been waiting months to hear their fate.

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Opinion Editorials

Women-owned businesses make up 42% of all businesses – heck yeah!

(EDITORIAL) Women-owned businesses make a huge impact on the U.S economy. They make up 42% of all businesses, outpace the national growth rate by 50%, and hire billions of workers.

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Women entrepreneurs make history in the U.S as female-owned businesses represent 42% of all businesses, while continuing to increase at DOUBLE the national growth rate!

Women are running the world, and we are here for it! The 2019 American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, states 13 million women are now self-employed entrepreneurs. From 2014 to 2019, women-owned businesses grew 21%. Think that’s impressive? Well, businesses owned by women of color grew 43% within the same timeframe, with a growth rate of 50%, and currently account for 50% of all women-owned businesses! Way to go! What this also means is that women employ over 2.4 million workers who together generate $422.5 billion in revenue.

What can we learn from these women that’ll help you achieve success in your businesses?

  1. Get informed: In a male-dominated business industry, women are often at a disadvantage and face multiple biases. So, know your stuff; study, research, and when you think you know it all…dig deeper!
  2. Stay hungry: Remember why you started this journey. Write down notes and reminders, goals, and inspirations, hang them up and keep them close.
  3. Ask for advice: Life is not meant to go through alone, so ask questions. Find a mentor and talk to people who have walked a similar path. Learning from them will only benefit your business.

Many of these women found ways to use their passion to drive their business. It may not be exactly what they thought it would be when they started out, but is it ever? Everyone has to start off small and rejection is part of the process. In fact, stories of rejection often serve as inspiration and encouragement to soon-to-be self starters.

Did you know J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” book was turned down TWELVE times? Seven books later with over 400 million copies sold, the Harry Potter brand is currently valued at over 15 billion. While you might not become a wizard-writing fantasy legend like J.K Rowling, you sure as heck can be successful. So go for it, and chase your dreams.

If you want to support women-owned businesses, start by scrolling through Facebook or doing some research to find women-owned businesses in your community. Then, support by buying or helping to promote their products. Small businesses, especially women-owned, black women-owned, and women of color-owned, are disproportionally affected by the current economic crisis ignited by a health pandemic. So if you can, shop small and support local. And remember, there’s a girl (or more) doing a happy dance when you checkout!

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