As we approach International Women’s Day tomorrow, many of us express “thank you” to our mothers, sisters, and fellow women at work. We think about those who influenced and made a difference in our lives. We celebrate the women around us.

Today I’m expressing gratitude to not only my mother, sisters, and daughter, but also to my female professors from graduate school. They gave me the courage to do what I love and speak my truth at work. They taught me what vulnerability looks like and how to express it effectively. They supported me as I emerged from the shell of doing what was expected to doing what I love. My mentors in graduate school helped me find my voice.

I challenge all of us to approach International Women’s Day with not only a “thank you,” but a sense of sincere gratitude for those women in our lives who have made a difference. 

Gratitude is a concept that has gained recent attention due to the benefits it provides based on positive psychology research. It is one of those secret ingredients that contributes to happiness, healing, and well-being.

What is gratitude?

Is gratitude an action? An emotion? An attitude? Gratitude is each one of these things.  According to Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a Workhuman speaker and one of the leading gratitude experts, gratitude is:

  • An affirmation of goodness.
  • A recognition that the source of goodness is outside of ourselves.

Gratitude is a heart-centered emotion. You need to pause and feel it. You need to think of the person, their actions, how they made you feel, and how you valued those actions. Gratitude requires that we each recognize our dependence on others. Gratitude requires humility and vulnerability. 

Pause and think of the women who supported you when you were vulnerable – those you leaned on during difficult times and helped you discover your strengths and weaknesses. International Women’s Day is a perfect time to start to build the gratitude muscle.

Benefits of gratitude 

There are many benefits of gratitude to individuals and organizations.

  1. Gratitude builds connection at work: According to a study from the University of Kentucky, grateful people are more likely to behave in a way that is positive, helpful, and intended to promote social connections. Individuals high on gratitude are less likely to react to negative feedback with negativity. When gratitude is part of the culture, then growing and learning through constructive feedback becomes second nature.
  2. Gratitude cultivates teamwork: People who have an attitude of gratitude do not become resentful and tend to appreciate other’s accomplishments. In a team environment, this means increased collaboration, reduced competition, and an increase in trust.
  3. Gratitude reduces stress: When we express gratitude, our brain is flooded with a chemical called dopamine, which gives us a natural high. Also, when individuals express gratitude, cortisol, the stress hormone, is decreased. When stress is reduced, we are more effectively able to bring our best selves to work, build an atmosphere of trust, collaboration, and innovation.
  4. Gratitude reduces turnover. Research also tells us that fostering gratitude can reduce turnover intention and lead to positive organizational outcomes. It can also help in “eliminating the toxic workplace emotions, attitudes, and negative emotions, such as envy, anger, and greed in today’s highly competitive work environment.”

How to get started

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I’m making a conscious effort to express gratitude for those who have made a difference in my life and career. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Lead by example. Start by expressing heartfelt gratitude to a peer or colleague in front of others. One way to express this gratitude is through a recognition program, where gratitude is shared with the individual and others, fostering positivity and connection.
  • Be specific. When you express gratitude, be specific on what the other person contributes – not just a general statement of appreciation. Calling out specifics makes the gratitude heartfelt and increases positivity for the receiver. Pause with others to tell stories of the women who have supported you. The more specific you are, the more the gratitude will resonate with others.
  • Prompt others. At the beginning of meetings, start with an act of gratitude. Ask others to share their gratitude. This practice will also foster teamwork and increase the psychological safety of the meeting.
  • Express gratitude daily. Make gratitude a daily habit. Set a goal to express gratitude for something or someone specific each day.

Use International Woman’s Day to start the practice of gratitude within your organization.  Think about women who have made a difference in your life. Write down what you feel along with examples of how they have made a difference to you. It will improve your wellbeing, reduce your stress, and increase your connection to others. It will make the receiver of the gratitude feel inspired, appreciated, and valued. 

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