Thoughts on Leadership: Compassion & Gratitude

If you’re following along with Thoughts on Leadership this month, you’ll know that November is ‘Gratitude Month,’ when all posts explore various life-changing, business-building, leadership-enriching aspects of gratitude. In response to last week’s post about positive self-talk, I received an email from Micheline Vargas, REALTOR®/sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties. In addition to being a real estate professional, Micheline is also a Doctor of Public Health – Preventative Care. As Micheline explained in her email, she recently gave a talk at the California Properties’ Pasadena office about the benefits of gratitude and compassion, where she used research findings to outline how gratitude and compassion “can improve emotional, physical and social well-being.” Her course description explained that “people practice gratitude and compassion experience greater social connection and are more altruistic. They have increased hope, optimism, and happiness. Research shows happy people have greater productivity, improved work quality, and even make more money. Practicing gratitude and compassion is also associated with reduced stress, depression, chronic pain, and cardiovascular disease.”

Talk about serendipitous timing!

Because we’re focused on gratitude this month, I thought we too could take a stroll through the available research and resources on this topic as it relates to compassion and happiness, with due credit—and utmost gratitude—to Micheline for inspiring today’s post.

Before we dive into the research, let’s first draw a line between gratitude and happiness. In a 2021 article published by the Harvard Medical School, experts explained that psychological research consistently and strongly links gratitude with greater happiness: “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Now that we see how gratitude is tied to increased happiness, let’s discuss what happens when you feel really happy.

William Shakespeare once wrote: “A merry heart goes all day. Your sad tires in a mile-a.”

In a 2005 study, “The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?” published by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that those who experience positive emotions—or to use Shakespeare’s words, those who are merry—tend to not only be more successful than those who experience negative emotions but also are more accomplished across “multiple life domains.” Why? The study cited that a positive mood helps people to “think, feel and act in ways that promote both resource building and involvement with approach goals.”

In other words, positive, compassionate, and happy people believe they have the tools, skills, relationships, and knowledge necessary to achieve anything. They also believe, according to the study, that all these things can be expanded to further new goals and combat future challenges.

As for gratitude, a 2022 article published by Mayo Clinic Health System reported that the expression of gratitude doesn’t just have positive mental benefits; it has positive physical benefits, too. “Studies have shown that feeling thankful can improve sleep, mood, and immunity. Gratitude can decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease,” the authors explained, likening gratitude to a kind of happy pill that allows your brain to appreciate the good in your life rather than harp on the negative. (In Micheline’s presentation, she notes that keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to improve sleep duration by an impressive 10%.)

If you’re reading all this research and thinking, ‘Makes perfect sense, Gino, but how can I express more gratitude in my life to reap these kinds of psychological and physical rewards?’

Here are a few places to get you started:

  • Keep a gratitude journal and add the practice of writing in it to your everyday routine (you can even use my own Gratitude Journal by clicking here).
  • Write handwritten thank you notes to people in your life and mail them out or deliver them each week.
  • Thank someone mentally whenever you’re reminded of the joy and happiness they’ve brought to your life.
  • Meditate or start a practice of meditation, which puts your brain in the present moment and allows it to observe what’s happening without judgment.
  • Volunteer your time for a worthy cause dedicated to helping the lives of others (expect to experience the classic “helper’s high” feeling of elation when you do this).
  • Put your phone away on your next walk or outing, and observe the sights, sounds and smells all around you.

So, what’s the message? Joy may be the simplest form of gratitude but joy that’s shared becomes compassion, and a joyful, compassionate, grateful person is the most wonderful leader of all.

This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.

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