The Power of Gratitude

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

After months of intensive writing, I finally finished my PhD thesis and I reached the acknowledgments section. Thinking about it, some people write them in a very formal way, others with lots of humor, mine leaned towards a more emotional approach. Despite the tiredness of reaching the finish line, I took a few moments to look back at these last four years, thinking of all the people who have contributed in one way or another. It has been an interesting exercise and I felt very grateful for so many things! This shift of perspective shed new light on many stressful situations of the past and made me wonder about the power of gratitude.

Photo by @simonmaage on Unsplash

Gratitude is deeply rooted in our traditions and cultures, it has been discussed by several philosophers and religions throughout the world and starts to develop during childhood when we become able to conceptualize it as recognition of something positive happening because of an external source.

Doing some research online - you have to forgive me because I have a very basic knowledge of neuroscience and absolutely no training in social sciences - I found studies that show how grateful disposition in employees correlated with less burnout and contributed to better work environment. Other studies showed benefits on sleep quality and self-esteem, and some research found a link between gratitude and oxytocin secretion or dopamine recycling, connecting gratitude with the "reward system" in the brain (for the reference to specific papers check out this white paper The science of gratitude).

So, how can we implement gratitude in our research routine?

1. Do it more often

It doesn’t cost much to take a few minutes to recall your daily events and recognize which positive outcomes happened thanks to the people around you. This is a good way to overwrite in your brain the negative bias to overthink all the mistakes and obstacles.

2. Spread it around

Leave a thank you note for the technician who prepared your buffer, reply to that coworker who shared with you a protocol, acknowledging the positive impact this had on your project, thank your secretary for preparing the documents for the business trip and your supervisor for giving you feedback. Not only it will make you feel good but it will make their day! Without considering the benefits of increasing their disposition to help you next time.

3. Ask for help when you need it

Don’t shy away from admitting that you need help. Most people will be willing to give you their time and expertise, and this will create social bonds and a collaborative spirit, as it gives you one more occasion to express your gratitude - and to return the favor next time.

4. Focus on the process more than on the outcome

As scientists, we are all very result-oriented because the results we produce are the source of our pride, the measure of our productivity and strongly influence our future career (check out the post Impact without impact factor written by Sara). However, we often overlook the process that leads to the result. Especially if the result is not what we hoped for, recognizing the help we received along the way can put things in perspective, leaving us with a heart full of gratitude even when things go wrong.

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