This time of year is synonymous with thankfulness, filled with family gatherings, food drives and plenty of good cheer to go around. And it’s no wonder this season feels so merry; it’s centered around gratitude.
According to experts, the practice of being grateful—not just in the moment, but with intention—can make us healthier, give us more resilience, help us sleep better and be generally happier, just to name a few of its upsides. Those benefits don’t stop at our personal lives either, so why should the practice of gratitude be reserved for a holiday that comes around once a year?
For entrepreneurs, practicing gratitude on a regular basis can bring big business benefits in the form of more sound decisions, better sales skills, relationship building and overall wellbeing. Need proof? We’ll share some of the scientific backing behind being intentionally thankful and discuss practical ways to make gratitude part of your entrepreneurial master plan.
Gratitude and Optimism
In a 2003 study, researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough set out to study the relationship between gratitude and wellbeing. They randomly assigned a group of subjects to three groups: an aggravation group, a gratitude group and a neutral group.
Once a week, the participants were tasked with a writing assignment. The aggravation group was asked to write about up to five things that had irritated them in the past week. The gratitude group wrote about five things they were thankful for, while the neutral group wrote about five things that had happened to them but weren’t instructed to focus on positive or negative experiences.
At the end of the ten-week exercise, the researchers found that those who had journaled about gratitude had fewer doctor visits and exercised more than the other two groups. But most noteworthy result was their sense of optimism; they expressed more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more positively about the upcoming week, and felt more connected with others than the other groups of subjects.
As an entrepreneur, you know that your outlook is everything. Go into the day with a pessimistic outlook and you’re bound to struggle to get things done. But go in with an optimistic one and things seem to fall into place; you land more sales. You make more authentic connections that can lead to beneficial business deals.
An optimistic entrepreneur is a successful one, and practicing gratitude can cement your sense of optimism.
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Gratitude and Health
We’re firm believers that your physical and mental health go hand in hand, and this next set of evidence proves that cultivating gratitude helps foster physical wellness.
According to multiple clinical trials, the practice of gratitude has a tangible and lasting impact on a variety of health factors.
A study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine found that people who practiced gratitude had healthier hearts, specifically lower levels of inflammation and healthier heart rhythms.
In another study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, researchers determined that our personality, specifically the trait of being grateful, influences our pre-sleep cognitive patterns in a way that actually helps us get a better night’s sleep.
Other trials have suggested that gratitude can have all kinds of physical affects, from lowering our blood pressure to boosting our red blood cell count and strengthening our immune system.
Bottom line, you can’t achieve peak performance as an entrepreneur if you don’t feel your best. According to science, being grateful can make a dramatic impact not just on your mental outlook, but your physical health to boot.
Gratitude and Stress
It’s that omni-present entrepreneurial demon we’d all like to see a little less of: stress. If you’ve made it this far, you probably guessed it—gratitude can help fight stress, too.
Have you ever started to stress about one small thing and had the feeling give way to bigger, more troubling feelings of anxiety? It’s like a snowball effect, and interestingly enough, gratitude works the same way but in reverse. When you practice gratitude for the small things, you start to feel better and less anxious about the bigger things, as well.
As reported by the Today Show, research suggests that when we think about what we appreciate, our cortisol (read: stress) levels drop and our oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) increases.
When we’re stressed, our vision gets foggy. We make frantic decisions rather than weighing what’s best for our business in the long run. Use gratitude to fight stress and maintain your focus on the clear and best path forward for your company.
It’s one thing to say ‘I’ll be more thankful,’ but as any busy entrepreneur knows, it’s another thing entirely to make it a regular habit. Routine is what breed success. Here are a few ways to practice gratitude as an entrepreneur in a way that will benefit both you and your business.
Keep A Gratitude Journal
It’s the exact tactic Emmons and McCullough (two prominent experts on gratitude, by the way) used in the study we discussed above to achieve higher levels of overall satisfaction: gratitude journaling.
Each day, take a few minutes to meditate on what you’re thankful for and jot it down in a notebook. It might be something small, like the fact that there’s hot coffee brewing in the kitchen, or something big like an upcoming business deal. Big or small, the benefits of gratitude are the same.
To make your gratitude journaling part of your regular routine, try to do it in the same place at the same time each day, like when you wake up in the morning or before you turn in for the night.
Thank Your Employees
It’s so simple, and yet it so often falls by the wayside: thanking your employees for their work.
You see, practicing gratitude as an entrepreneur isn’t just about being thankful for the things you have; it’s also about recognizing the things you’re thankful for in others.
Employees who feel appreciated work harder and stick around longer. According to an SHRM/Globoforce report on employee recognition, companies that have a strategic recognition system in place are 48% more likely to report high engagement.
You can also benefit from breeding a culture of recognition in which colleagues express appreciation for one another. Companies with peer-to-peer recognition systems are 35% more likely to report lower turnover rates.
Thanking your employees regularly is simply good for the bottom line. Companies that spend greater than 1% of payroll on recognition (which isn’t a whole lot in the grand scheme of things) are 79% more likely to see better financial results. That’s quite an argument in favor of recognizing your employees.
We talk more about incentivizing and recognizing employees in this post.
Equally important as recognizing your employees is recognizing the people who keep your business running—your clients! Now is the perfect time of year to reach out with a token of your thanks, whether it’s a thoughtful card or gift.
One of my former employers had a special knack for client appreciation gifts. There were no cookie tins happening (though those are great, too!); each gift was individually selected to hold meaning for that specific client.
Our clients ate it up. Every year the office would be flooded with phone calls and notes of thanks, and people talked about their gifts from us for years to come.
Of course, the whole point of giving a gift is to express gratitude and not to receive recognition, but in this case it does double duty, serving as a token of your thanks while promoting feelings of goodwill and loyalty among your customers.
Avoid The Urge To Compare
As the old saying goes, comparison is the thief of joy. As you focus on what you’re thankful for, avoid the tendency to contrast it with what you still have yet to achieve or where your competition stands.
To help keep your focus on what you have versus what you lack, the Greater Good In Action project developed in conjunction with UC Berkeley suggests trying an exercise that’s the polar opposite of the gratitude journal: try imagining your life without a few of the things you’re thankful for.
Maybe you haven’t landed your dream client yet, but what would your business look like without all the ones you do have? Or, maybe your competition just beat you to the punch with a new product offering. What would your entrepreneurial world look like if there was no competition—i.e. no demand for what you sell?
It’s an interesting exercise that helps remind us we can be grateful for the progress we’ve made while still having lofty goals for where we want to go.
Don’t Dwell On The Negative
One of the most important leadership qualities that determines an entrepreneur’s success is resilience. Being resilient means bouncing back from failure, which we all inevitably encounter.
To better enable your practice of gratitude, take a careful look at how you react after a setback. Do you take it as a lesson learned and try things a different way, or does it take you days or even weeks to recover?
If it’s the latter, you probably need to work on building up some resilience. When something bad happens, don’t dwell on it. Absorb it. Process it. Take note of how it makes you feel and why. Store it as a data point to help you in the future and then move on. Refusing to dwell on the negative is an excellent way to make your default mentality one of gratitude.
From better health to stronger client relationships to increased revenue, the benefits of practicing gratitude as an entrepreneur are many—not just during the holiday season, but all year long.