How This Makes Everyone Happier, Healthier and Better Versions of Themselves

Kathy was my first assistant, when I was working at a public relations agency in my twenties. I made a point of writing thank-you notes to her when she finished something for me.

Walking through the office one day, I heard Kathy talking to another assistant. She said, “Lynne writes me thank-you notes for everything. That makes them all kind of meaningless.”

I was shocked! I thought I was being a good supervisor … Not knowing what to do, I never discussed this with Kathy and just wrote fewer of them.

What’s the Difference?

Praise is defined as “the expression of warm approval or admiration.” It comes from the Latin pretium, meaning “reward, prize, value, worth.”

Gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Its root is the Latin gratus, for “pleasing, agreeable, thankful, grace.”

(Sometimes I can’t help being a former English major.)

If this seems like so much hair splitting, here’s the sense I make of it. Praise recognizes something a person has done. Gratitude is about the meaning of what they do and who they are to you.

With that in mind, I can see how my notes fell short for Kathy. They didn’t show approval or admiration of her work. Nor did they show appreciation or a wish to be kind back. She was right: my scribbles were a meaningless pleasantry that made me feel good.

Our Brains on Gratitude

Here’s the great thing. Gratitude is a gift to the giver and receiver.

It stimulates both brains to produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which make us feel good and boosts our moods. It also reduces fear and anxiety by lowering the amount of stress hormones in our systems.

When we practice gratitude every day, this rewires our brains. We strengthen these neural pathways, making us more grateful and positive by default. (This affects the people around us, because moods are contagious.)

Then we all get the documented benefits of gratitude:

  1. Being happier—having more positive emotions and thoughts, becoming more aware and awake, feeling greater satisfaction with ourselves, enhancing our mood
  2. Being healthier—building a stronger immune system, having fewer aches and pains, having optimum blood pressure and heart function, experiencing better sleeping and waking cycles
  3. Being better versions of ourselves—improving our communication with others, having more empathy, having stronger relationships, being more likeable, being a more involved team member

What Now?

Don’t make my mistake of thoughtless thank yous.

Whether giving praise or gratitude, be specific:

  • Praise—“You did a great job of leading that meeting, Kathy. You kept things moving. We got a lot done—on time! And now everyone knows what to do next.”
  • Gratitude—”You’re an inspiring leader, Kathy. This meeting is a great example. Not only did you get everything covered in an hour, but you made sure we all felt involved in the solution and know what to do next. I’m so happy to be part of your team because we’re making a difference!”

Look for opportunities to express gratitude. It could be a comment—face-to-face or phone/Zoom/Skype. It could be a note—which has even more impact when you deliver it in person, or even read it out loud to the recipient first. It could even be thinking about someone and thanking that person in your head. And don’t forget to regularly send yourself a note or thought of gratitude.

Make gratitude a practice. Some people keep gratitude journals, where they write what happened this day or week that they’re grateful for. Or they have a “gratitude partner” whom they regularly discuss this. Whatever path you choose, focus on how these instances made you feel.

In the middle of your over-busy day, take time to notice and express appreciation. Consider it the emotional equivalent of the boost you get from coffee or chocolate—without the calories!