Why does gratitude at work matter?

I recently watched a fantastic documentary, called Minimalism (I know, I know – I’m really late to the party here!) For those of you who haven’t seen it, the film centres on two men in the US, who call themselves ‘The Minimalists.’ They gave up all belongings they considered unnecessary, seeking to achieve happiness with less stuff. Throughout the film, viewers are introduced to others living ‘minimalist’ lifestyles – from a guy travelling the world with only a small holdall, to a woman who discarded most of her material possessions to live in a tiny (but functional) house.

In the film, it’s explained that every item that’s kept by a minimalist has to be:

  1. Functional, or useful in some way


  1. An item that brings the owner joy

Whilst watching, it struck me that the central theme of the minimalist movement is gratitude. It’s about appreciating the worth of a particular item; whether it’s something that does a job, like a tin opener or pen – or something that makes you happy, like your favourite book or an old photograph. The people living this lifestyle are incredibly grateful for each item they choose to keep – because everything is appreciated, and kept for a reason.

Gratitude in the workplace

Although I’m not about to throw all of my possessions into a skip, watching the documentary did provide some interesting food for thought. Why does gratitude matter, and how can it make us happier? How does this apply to the workplace – and what can we do to be more grateful and appreciative?

  1. Say Thank You

This sounds pretty basic, but I’m sure you’ve felt unappreciated at work in the past. I know I have, and it can be frustrating and demoralising. Although this might come down to forgetfulness (everyone’s busy, after all), the impact of neglecting to send a quick ‘thank you’ email can be extremely damaging.

Make sure you take the time to thank those that help or support you at work. This isn’t just down to leaders or managers – whatever your role in the organisation, make sure you take time to appreciate the work, time and effort of your colleagues.

For inspiration, watch ‘Remember to Say Thank You’ by Laura Trice.

  1. Reflect and Refocus

Do you find yourself moving from one project to another, with little time to think about the things you’ve achieved? How often do you actually stop to reflect on the things that are going well – let alone to congratulate yourself (and your colleagues) on your achievements?

It can be easy to dismiss reflection when you’re busy with other things. However, if we don’t take time to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, how can we develop or improve? There are many ways to do this – and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming.

In The Happiness Advantage, Harvard-researcher and positive psychologist Shawn Achor introduced the 21-Day Challenge. This involves five daily-exercises to help improve happiness and appreciation, over a three-week period. This includes:

  • Noting three things you’re grateful for
  • Journaling one positive experience
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Performing a random act of kindness

This challenge is a great way to refocus your mind, and ensures that being appreciative becomes a part of your daily routine. I took on the challenge a few years ago, and still continue with several elements of it today.

Another great way to focus on appreciation and gratitude is the 100 Happy Days Challenge. All you have to do is take a photo of something that makes you happy each day, and add it to your social media accounts with the hashtag #100happydays.

  1. Understand the Science

To some, happiness and gratitude are considered ‘fluffy’ terms in the workplace. It’s easy to recognise the importance of happiness in our personal lives – and yet the idea of cultivating happiness at work is sometimes considered unimportant. If you encounter people who don’t share your passion for happiness at work, sharing some of the science behind it might be useful.

At People Lab, we specialise in the positive psychology of engagement – and we’ve written several articles about it that you might find useful. Click on the titles below to browse our blog archive:

Do you think gratitude in the workplace is important? How do you share appreciation with your colleagues? We’d love to hear your thoughts – let’s continue the conversation via Twitter or Facebook, or in the comments section below.

Hayley McGarvey


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