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Can Gratitude Really Change Behavior?

Can gratitude really change behavior? Can you get a positive response from positive effort? What does being grateful do to your behavior? In a world full of negative images on television, radio, news reporting (and I could go on and on), can just a smile and a thank you make a difference? Can you really be the change you want to see in the world as Gandhi indicated so passionately? So what exactly is gratitude? As defined by Webster, “gratitude is a feeling of appreciation, or a state of being thankful”. Gratitude is thankfulness. My definition is this; gratitude is a behavior or feeling that comes from the heart and is expressed through kind words and a genuine smile. Wow! Just think about the power of gratitude with a smile. Research shows [] that neurotransmitters called endorphins are released when we smile. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol and it draws people to us. Have you ever noticed that when you smile and get one in return, how good it feels?

  • Gratitude feels good!

​Tim Autrey, the leading expert in Human Performance and a culture changing specialist, talks about the power of the Individual Performance Model in his new book, 6 Hour Safety Culture [ ]. He explains explicitly that individuals’ behavior can change by simply providing ‘different experiences’ on an ongoing basis. Experiences feed our mindset and perceptions which directly impact our thoughts that invoke feelings (positive or negative) and ultimately produce our behaviors (productive or unproductive). So in a nut-shell, if you choose to provide a different experience, you will surely help change behavior. One of my favorite quotes from Tim’s book states, “The behavior you focus on is the behavior you’re going to get”.

  • Gratitude is both internal and external!

So, how does this work in real life? Let me share a few personal examples of how gratitude has changed my life. I frequent a very large gym just down the street from my home about three times a week. After establishing a consistent routine, I began to notice a housekeeping employee meticulously cleaning, vacuuming and wiping down equipment with incredible joy; I even watched him scrape gum off the floor and whistle while he did it. He always made a point to say, “Thanks for coming!” and “Have a great day!” as members made their way out the front doors. After observing this behavior for several weeks, I decided to follow his lead and spread a little joy and gratitude of my own. The next time I saw this gentleman, I simply thanked him for keeping the gym so clean, smiled and put out my hand as a friendly gesture. He turned and said, “Thank you! It’s nice to know that what I do makes a difference in people’s lives!” That day, not only did I leave there smiling, but so did he.

  • Gratitude is contagious!

I’ve traveled the world doing humanitarian work with refugees in Athens, Greece and South America. I’ve watched people with not much more than the clothes on their back express pure joy and gratitude as they received a much needed meal, a bottle of water and a kind word of encouragement.

Recently, I’ve been to the mountains of Nicaragua to share basic hygiene items, spiritual support and love to the poorest of the poor and was overwhelmed to witness the magnitude of emotion as people express genuine gratitude. I’ve been to the inner city of my hometown and witnessed the joy on a child’s face when receiving the only Christmas gift he will get that year. I’ve learned that gratitude is reciprocal; I have so much to be thankful for, and when I give a little, I get so much more in return. So back to the question, can gratitude really change behavior? The answer is ABSOLUTELY! Gratitude feels good, gratitude is internal and external, and gratitude is contagious.

  • So, why not go out and give a little gratitude today?

You CAN be the change you want to see in the world. It starts with you!

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