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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

Facebook fights falsehoods (it’s a false flag)

(EDITORIAL) Facebook has chosen Reuters to monitor its site for false information, but what can one company really do, and why would Facebook only pick one?

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Reuters checks facebook

So Facebook has finally taken a step to making sure fake news doesn’t get spread on it’s platform. Like many a decision from them though, they haven’t been thorough with their venture.

I am a scientifically driven person, I want facts, figures, and evidence to determine what is reality. Technology is a double edged sword in this arena; sure having a camera on every device any person can hold makes it easy to film events, but deepfakes have made even video more questionable.

Many social media platforms have tried to ban deepfakes but others have actually encouraged it. “I’ll believe it when I see it” was the rally cry for the skeptical, but now it doesn’t mean anything. Altering video in realistic ways has destroyed the credibility of the medium, we have to question even what we see with our eyes.

The expansion of the internet has created a tighter communication net for all of humanity to share, but when specific groups want to sway everyone else there isn’t a lot stopping them if they shout louder than the rest.

With the use of bots, and knowing the specifics of a group you want to sway, it’s easy to spread a lie as truth. Considering how much information is known about almost any user on any social media platform, it’s easy to pick targets that don’t question what they see online.

Facebook has been the worst offender in knowing consumer data and what they do with that data. Even if you never post anything political, they know what your affiliation is. If you want to delete that information, it’s hidden in advertising customization.

Part of me is thrilled that Facebook has decided to try and stand against this spread of misinformation, but how they pursued this goal is anything but complete and foolproof.

Reuters is the news organization that Facebook has chosen to fact check the massive amount of posts, photos, and videos that show up on their platform everyday. It makes sense to grab a news organization to verify facts compared to “alternative facts”.

A big problem I have with this is that Reuters is a company, companies exist to make money. Lies sell better than truths. Ask 2007 banks how well lies sell, ask Enron how that business plan worked out, ask the actors from Game of Thrones about that last season.

Since Reuters is a company, some other bigger company could come along, buy them, and change everything, or put in people who let things slide. Even Captain America recognizes this process. “It’s run by people with agendas, and agendas change.” This could either begin pushing falsehoods into Facebook, or destroy Reuters credibility, and bite Facebook in the ass.

If some large group wants to spread misinformation, but can’t do it themselves, why wouldn’t they go after the number one place that people share information?

I really question if Reuters can handle the amount of information flowing through Facebook, remember almost a 3rd of the whole world uses Facebook. 2.45 Billion people will be checked by 25,800 employees at Reuters? I can appreciate their effort, but they will fail.

Why did Facebook only tag one company to handle this monumental task? If you know that many people are using your platform, and such a limited number of people work for the company you tasked with guarding the users, why wouldn’t you tag a dozen companies to tackle that nigh insurmountable number of users?

I think it’s because Facebook just needs that first headline “Facebook fights falsehoods”. That one line gets spread around but the rest of the story is ignored, or not thought about at all. If there is anything Facebook has learned about the spread of fake information on their platform, it’s how to spread it better.

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Opinion Editorials

Will shopping for that luxury item actually lower your quality of life?

(EDITORIAL) Want to buy yourself a pick-me-up? Have you thought of all the ramifications of that purchase? Try to avoid splurging on it.

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In an era of “treat-yo-self,” the urge to splurge is real. It doesn’t help that shopping – or what ends up being closer to impulse shopping – provides us with a hit of dopamine and a fleeting sense of control. Whether your life feels like it’s going downhill or you’ve just had a bad day, buying something you want (or think you want) can seem like an easy fix.

Unfortunately, it might not be so great when it comes to long-term happiness.

As you might have already guessed, purchasing new goods doesn’t fall in line with the minimalism trend that’s been sweeping the globe. Being saddled with a bunch of stuff you don’t need (and don’t even like!) is sure to make your mood dip, especially if the clutter makes it harder to concentrate. Plus, if you’ve got a real spending problem, the ache in your wallet is sure to manifest.

If that seems depressing, I’ve got even more bad news. Researchers at Harvard and Boston College have found yet another way spending can make us more unhappy in the long run: imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you’re not as good as your peers and they just haven’t caught on yet. This insecurity often arises in competitive careers, academics and, apparently, shopping.

Now, there’s one big caveat to this idea that purchasing goods will make you feel inferior: it really only applies to luxury goods. I’m talking about things like a Louis Vuitton purse, a top of the line Mercedes Benz, a cast iron skillet from Williams Sonoma (or is that one just me?). The point is, the study found that about 67% of people – regardless of their income – believed their purchase was inauthentic to their “true self.”

And this imposter syndrome even existed when the luxury items were bought on sale.

Does this mean you should avoid making a nice purchase you’ve been saving up for? Not necessarily. One researcher at Cambridge found that people were more likely to report happiness for purchases that fit their personalities. Basically, a die-hard golfer is going to enjoy a new club more than someone who bought the same golf club to try to keep up with their co-workers.

Moral of the story: maybe don’t impulse buy a fancy new Apple watch. Waiting to see if it’s something you really want can save your budget…and your overall happiness.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer got you down? Does it make your job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment without budget worries.

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better equipment, better work

Aside from bringing the boss coffee and donuts for a month before asking, what is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes. In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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