A Year Looking on the Bright Side
By Sarah Payne
We all have the best intentions on January 1st—making resolutions to eat healthier or workout more or get more sleep. What if you made a resolution to live more gratefully? That’s the goal Janice Kaplan set for herself in her New York Times bestselling book, The Gratitude Diaries.
She writes in the first chapter, “I knew that how I felt about the twelve months ahead would probably have less to do with what actually happened than with the mood, spirit, and attitude I brought to each day.”
Janice has long been interested in gratitude. Back in 2012, she oversaw a survey for the John Templeton Foundation, which evaluated the American attitude toward gratitude and generated some surprising findings.
Read our Q&A with Janice below to learn more about the survey and the potential impact gratitude has in our personal and professional lives.
What insight did you glean from the gratitude survey?
Some 94 percent of Americans believe that people who are grateful are also fulfilled and lead a richer life—but less than half of us express gratitude on any regular basis. We have a huge gratitude gap! We know gratitude matters, but we haven’t figured out how to make it a real part of our lives. I was also struck by how bad we are at being grateful to the people closest to us. People are more likely to say thanks to the server at a restaurant or the mailman than to their own spouse. And the workplace is the worst—fewer than 10 percent in the survey regularly expressed thanks to colleagues or a boss.
The survey shows a gratitude gap at work—that people know the benefits of gratitude but don’t take action to express it. Why do you think that is?
Too many executives still have the old attitude of “we say thanks with a paycheck.” They think it makes them more powerful not to express appreciation for the work people do. But they are wrong on every count! Being appreciated is one of the great motivators on any job. You’ll give your best effort if others appreciate your work. In the survey 81 percent of people said they would work harder for a grateful boss and some 90 percent said that a grateful boss is more likely to succeed because people would rally around him or her and nobody succeeds on their own.
In your new book, The Gratitude Diaries, you document a year spent “looking on the bright side.” What prompted you to start this project?
On a New Year’s Eve, I started to think about what would make the year ahead particularly special. I had just overseen this survey on gratitude, and I realized that how I felt about the coming twelve months would have less to do with the events that occurred than with the attitude I brought to every day. If you wait for events to make you happy, you’re going to be waiting a long time.
In your research for the book, what was the best advice you were given for bringing more gratitude into your life?
Gratitude should never be a burden—keep it simple! I kept a gratitude journal, but all you need is a piece of paper next to your bed where you write down own thing each night that made you grateful that day. One thing! Who can’t do that? But the surprise is how that little effort will change how you look at the entire day. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, you start to focus on what went right.
How did your year of gratitude impact your relationships?
I spent the first month of the year being grateful to my husband and thanking him for the little things that he did, anyway. The goodwill started to change the vibe in our marriage and we ended up having more fun than ever before. Similarly, I started appreciating my children more, and while we’ve always had a close family, our relationships all improved. People respond positively when they are appreciated, not criticized.
Did you see mistakes people make or habits that hinder progress toward becoming more grateful?
Many people worry that gratitude will undercut their ambition. I understand the concern because ambitious people are usually focused on where they want to go next. But you can do that while still appreciating what you have right now. In fact, research shows that grateful people are more successful at reaching their goals than others. Gratitude gives you an energy and an excitement about being in the world and making it better.
What changes did you see in your work life by focusing more on appreciation and gratitude?
I’ve had a great career as a writer, television producer, and magazine editor, but it’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of work and not appreciate what you’ve accomplished. I’ve also started to let myself enjoy the process more. Sometimes I tell people to think about how they’d feel if they didn’t have their job anymore. If you wouldn’t miss anything about it, then it’s time for a new job! But maybe you’d miss the people around you, the chats at the coffee machine, or the challenge of solving problems. When you’re feeling frustrated or unappreciated, keep those positives in mind.
What impact do you see peer-to-peer recognition programs having on our ability to express and receive gratitude at work?
I think they’re hugely important. You’ll give your best effort if you’re appreciated, and your whole attitude changes when the boss or colleagues acknowledge what you’ve done. I spoke to Doug Conant, former CEO of the Campbell Soup Company, who sent 30,000 handwritten thank you notes to his employees in the ten years he had the corner office. I have huge respect for the companies that are trying to create a culture of gratitude. The people there will be happier—and that’s what leads to success.
Sarah Payne is Globoforce’s content writer. She supports the marketing programs team in creating intriguing content for lead generation, presentations, and events. She has a BA in English and Writing from University of Rhode Island.