Creating a Culture of Gratitude: A Simple Practice With Great Impact
During the first year of marriage, my wife and I decided to make a gratitude jar; well more accurately, my wife decided that we would make a gratitude jar. For those of you like me, that had never heard of this, it is a simple concept. Every time something good happened in our lives, personally or in business, alone, as a couple, or with friends, we were to write a little note and drop it in the jar. You cannot read any of the notes until the end of the year and if desired can open and read as part of your New Year’s celebration. When she first proposed this idea, I looked at the newly purchased decorative, chalk painted jar, looked at the excited expression on her face, and said, “Well, that sounds like a GREAT idea.” All the while in my mind thinking, “you just wanted to buy a fancy jar from Pier 1, and have somehow turned this into a project for me!” As it turned out though, as with most things in life that I begrudgingly try, I learned so much more than I imagined I would from the fancy jar on the dresser.
Early on, I noticed that there may be a level of truth when my wife declared that I am “much more competitive than I want to admit”. I had to admit this truth, only to myself of course, because whenever there were new papers in the jar, I would immediately force myself to stop and think about something joyful or funny that had happened that week, and to acknowledge it in an attempt to “even out our happiness”. During the year, we would both notice when neither had used the jar in a while which would prompt discussions around whether we were going through a low time at work or home, almost always to realize that we had simply become complacent in acknowledging all of the things we had to be grateful for and how blessed we were.
I think one of the most impactful moments was at year end. We finally opened the jar and read the recap. It was so interesting to see not only the difference in what brought each of us the most joy, recognizing the patterns of the source of our happiness as a couple was very insightful. With us, we found that it was a lot of those silly things that are only funny to the people within your world, like when you turned on the window washer as she walked by the car in her dinner dress, that time she turned on your seat heater without your knowledge and giggled hysterically for the 45 minute ride listening to you complain about how hot it is, or when you both broke out loudly in song to an 80’s hit at the exact same moment. It was the simplest ones that made us laugh all over again and to feel grateful for one another, much more than the trips out of town or holiday gifts.
With Thanksgiving and the year-end fast approaching, I was thinking of thankfulness and gratitude in terms of corporate culture. As a consultant, I see companies that offer robust financial incentives, benefits programs, extra paid time off, free office lunches and various other items that can be costly for the employer and sometimes out of reach for smaller organizations. With that type of environment, you would assume there must be lower turnover, higher engagement, and an overall sense of gratitude from the team, but instead many times the opposite is true, a disengaged team with a high sense of entitlement. It is almost as if this level of generosity has become their “norm” to such a level that they no longer recognize what they have to be grateful for.
As leaders, we also are at risk of this in business; how and when do we express gratitude to our teams? If we get into the habit of using monetary means only to acknowledge people or recognize larger accomplishments, a lot of those small, unspoken items that we have become accustomed to, yet love, can be lost. What is your business equivalent of the gratitude jar? Why not take the time to make a list this season? Recognizing all of those items that you are grateful for within your business, no matter how small, is a great way to learn about what drives YOU, and how you have expressed gratitude for that, may help to facilitate a new culture of gratitude within your entire team.