Gratitude Benefits All of Us

May 25, 2023, Department, by Aaron Harris, M.S., CPRE

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Many professionals in parks and recreation got into the field because they enjoy the social and emotional components of the jobs they get to do daily. Societal and professional struggles in the past few years — including the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, staffing issues and more — have stressed the social and emotional connections many professionals have with their jobs. Expressing gratitude is one way to rekindle the social and emotional connection that’s been lacking during the past few years.

To paraphrase Harvard Medical School, gratitude is the thankful appreciation for something an individual receives. When people feel gratitude, they become aware of the goodness in their lives and recognize the source of that gratitude comes from outside themselves. Benefits of gratitude for the recipient are well documented. Today, let’s focus on the impact expressing gratitude has on the person giving the gratitude and learn a few ways to express gratitude toward others.

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people. One of the interventions was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for their kindness. Participants of this experiment immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores.The impact of this letter-writing exercise was greater than any other intervention used in the study. The report also shared that the giver of the gratitude letter saw lasting benefits for up to one month.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California Davis, has done significant research on the topic of gratitude for more than a decade. He conducted a simple experiment in which people were instructed to write what they are thankful for in a journal each day. Compared to the control groups, people who wrote about their thankfulness slept better, exercised more, and increased their outlook on life.

Based on the research of Dr. Emmons and Dr. Seligman, I encourage you to try one of the following (or for the committed readers out there, maybe try all three):

  • Block 15 minutes in your calendar sometime during the next two weeks to think about gratitude and who you can express gratitude toward. Then, figure out a way to express that gratitude. It might be a thank you note, a phone call, or buying a cup of coffee.
  • Try establishing a “day of gratitude” at work. In one of my previous organizations, we implemented “Thankful Thursday” as a way for people to share something they were thankful for with coworkers, volunteers and patrons. These small demonstrations of gratitude started to spread, and we ended up committing to the activity for an entire month. Personally, it felt good to share stories of thankfulness with coworkers, and, subjectively, the work culture felt more connected and uplifted.
  • Take out your phone and text someone who has made a difference in your life. Specifically, find someone you haven’t spoken within the past month. In this message, share what they did to make an impact on your life specifically, and why that was important.

Looking back on the myriad struggles facing the industry throughout the past several years, I’d like to think more than a few of those issues can be solved by sharing gratitude. As a leader, sharing specific gratitude with those who are doing quality work and making your work life more enjoyable is an easy and low-cost way to improve culture. It’s proven that acts of gratitude, no matter how small, will improve the day of someone you care about as well as your own happiness. So, what are you waiting for? Start sharing gratitude with those around you today.

Aaron Harris, M.S., CPRE, is Senior Recreation Manager at City of Fort Collins