Thanksgiving 2020 will be an interesting one. COVID-19, an omnipresent reality through most of this year, has resulted in a sense of loss for many - loss of work, social connection, freedom, and the loss of how we typically communicate emotion. ‘Smiling eyes’ takes on a whole new meaning as we attempt to convey happiness from behind our masks. Or convey friendliness in the grocery aisle, or forgiveness if we are walking against the directional arrows (and who hasn’t done that?).

Along with losses, however, are gains easily overlooked in this chaotic, ever-changing environment. We have new things to appreciate. Suddenly, neighbours are singing together across the world. Special store hours are set aside for elderly patrons. Increased flexibility in the workplace improves work/life balance. There’s an enhanced appreciation of health service workers and teachers, and restaurants are being thoroughly sanitized. (Really? It took a pandemic for these things to happen?)

Gratitude is powerful and has been acknowledged as such for centuries. “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all of the others” according to Roman lawyer and orator Cicero (106–43bc). Roman philosopher Seneca ranked “ingrates below thieves, rapists, and adulterers”. Apparently, ungrateful people were not looked upon kindly by Romans in those times.

Despite the centuries of acknowledgement, we are just beginning to understand the neuroscience of gratitude. We now have scientific evidence that looking for positives and expressing gratitude actually rewires our brains to seek out more of the same. So, if we consciously and consistently practice gratitude, our neural pathways get stronger and we, accordingly, become more positive individuals.

Gratitude is also linked to increased physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing (as summarized in this article). And it has ripple effects - expressing gratitude not only positively affects the receiver but also increases the levels of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in the giver. Anyone witnessing your ‘gratitude exchange’ also benefits. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Gratitude in the workplace is an even newer concept, and the days of ‘we show our appreciation by paying you’ have all but disappeared. Here are some ways gratitude benefits organizations and employees, including reduced turnover and stronger relationships. 

So how do we go about rerouting those neural pathways? Harvard Medical School suggests the following to cultivate gratitude.

Write a thank-you note.

You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.

Thank someone mentally.

No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you and mentally thank the individual.

Keep a gratitude journal.

Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day.

Count your blessings.

Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.

Pray.

People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude. (There is a way to tap into the power of prayer even if you're not religious. The word "pray' is traditionally religious but is really about thoughtful intention, which can include giving thanks. Saying a prayer to yourself or out loud is a simple way to send out energy.)

Meditate.

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).

Urban Legal Recruitment founder, Stacy Cowan, uses mala beads in her meditation practice. Sitting in silence with one of her mala bead necklaces, she touches each bead (there are 108 of them), reflecting on something she is grateful for and always starting with gratitude for her health. She suggests this practice because the simple act of touching the mala beads helps to stay focused. It is the perfect way to start and end the day in a higher vibration.

At Urban Legal Recruitment, gratitude is embedded in our culture. We are deeply grateful for our employees, clients and candidates, and humbled by their continued support and loyalty. If you have any questions, are considering a change, or just want to chat, we would love to hear from you.