As I previously mentioned, I am completing coursework through the Univ. of PA in the field of Positive Psychology.  Required is the development and testing of a hypothesis related to the field of positive psychology.  Specifically my hypothesis is that small businesses taking the time and specific actions to demonstrate gratitude to customers will see an increase in customer traffic and loyalty as measured by orders, repeat business and/or customer traffic over a three month period.  My hypothesis considers the impact of gratitude as it relates to the relationship between a business and its client or customers, but there is something equally important we must consider!  How does the expression of gratitude serve to improve our own lives?

Recent research conducted by Christina Arment and Sonja Lyubomirsky provides a better understanding of How Gratitude Motivates Us to Become Better People.  In a post published in May’s Greater Good Magazine, the authors provide an overview of the research conducted at The University of California-Riverside showing gratitude to be an activating, energizing force that may lead us to pursue our goals and become better and more socially engaged people.  The authors cite much of the previous research related to gratitude and its link with success, happiness and achievement in multiple life domains including health and academics.  They also cite research that demonstrates that gratitude inspires us to perform kind acts for others.  The question they pose is this, “Why does gratitude inspire positive action rather than breed complacency?”  Their research identified four “pathways” through which expressing gratitude can motivate people to improve themselves and their communities:

• Connectedness – feeling grateful encourages us to reflect on our relationships and leads to a closer connection to others.  This, in turn, helps motivate and sustain our efforts at self-improvement.

• Elevation – This is the name scientist give that uplifting feeling or warm glow that we get when we see or perform an act of kindness.  Gratitude provides this sensation, which bolsters their motivation and efforts toward self-improvement.

• Humility – Gratitude takes the focus off ourselves and forces us to consider the fact that our successes are not self driven, but due, at least in part, to the actions of other people.

• Indebtedness – Research demonstrated that the expression of gratitude could result in both positive and negative emotions, including feeling uplifted but indebted at the same time.  However these mixed feelings can lead to positive action. The feeling of indebtedness may serve to “light the fire” that results in our reciprocating the good.

The authors conclude, “Gratitude may, therefore, have the power to do more than make us happy and motivate us to improve our own lives. It can inspire us to become more productive members of society and better citizens of the world.”

But what good does it do to be better citizens of the world, if we lack trust?  According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, we have, as a society, evidenced an implosion of trust especially as it relates to four institutions; the media, government, non-governmental agencies (NGO’s) and business.  Of the four, business still maintains the greatest level of trust, but even that is threatened.  According to Richard Edelman, “The onus is now on business, the one institution that retains some trust with the skeptical about the system, to prove that it is possible to act in the interest of shareholders and society.”

So what can be done?  Is there anything we can each do individually to improve trust?  Elizabeth Hopper shares research that answers the question, Can Gratitude Make Our Society More Trusting?  She begins by reinforcing Edelman’s findings via a related study which also suggests that Americans have become less trusting over the past few years.  She identifies this as a significant problem as trust has numerous benefits for societies including healthier relationships, lower crime and even a better economy.  The question becomes how can we reverse the trend?  Researchers found that people who had consciously counted their blessings for just a week were more likely to trust others. The researchers asked half of the participants in the study to complete a gratitude journal every three days in which they listed up to five things for which they felt grateful. They discovered that those who completed the journal exhibited higher levels of trust and had higher levels of positive emotion.  This study suggests that the effects of gratitude on trust persist even longer, after the activity has ended.  In a time when trust is sorely needed, perhaps we all need to consider the use of brief and simple gratitude practices.

Here’s my challenge to you!  Beginning this evening take five minutes to identify two to three things that happened today for which you need to be grateful.  Make sure you also identify the person to whom the expression of gratitude should be directed.  On Tuesday make a quick phone call or drop them an email letting them know you are grateful for what they did.  Follow this process on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, finishing with the phone calls on Friday morning.  Late Friday, reflect on your week.  How do you feel?  Are you more trusting?  Did the expressions of gratitude surprise people?  How did this exercise affect you?  I’d be interested to hear how things went.  That being said, have a great week and Embrace the Challenge.