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The role of gratitude in the process of raising positive emotional states has been mooted and challenged in positive psychology, a domain which principally seeks to understand and cultivate the factors which help individuals and groups to flourish. As findings surrounding the emotional basis for positive behaviours and productivity emerge, this week’s blog looks at gratitude in the workplace and whether applying key principles and practice can influence positive workplace outcomes.

Broaden and build theory suggests that when someone experiences positive emotions, in that moment, it broadens their thought-action repertoires and builds their intellectual and psychological resources (Frederickson, 2001). Frequent experiences of positive emotions are fundamental to happiness and successful outcomes across professional and personal life domains. From a psychological perspective, positive emotions including joy, love, gratitude, admiration, elevation, awe, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement and inspiration are theorised to facilitate the growth of specific personal resources, such as increased generosity and ethical decision making. In turn, these personal resources have great value in social and work environments and, by applying them, they are likely to result in further achievement and recognition (Armenta, Fritz & Lyubomirsky, 2017).

Keep calm and say thank you…

An individual’s resolve in fluctuating emotional states is the product of cultivated positive emotional resources. Gratitude is just one of the specific positive emotions which can build psychological and social resources. In research terms, gratitude is divided into two functional types: general gratitude and benefit driven gratitude. General gratitude is a broad appreciation for what is truly important such as resisting the urge to ruminate on negative experiences and focus on the helpful learning outcomes. Benefit driven gratitude is a feeling felt in response to an action by another person. Both types of gratitude lead to positive emotional outcomes including decreased stress levels and greater life satisfaction (Armenta, Fritz & Lyubomirsky, 2017).

Working it…

Far from being a passive emotion, gratitude is an active state of consciously acknowledging feelings of thankfulness. This can be done through recalling previous events which stimulate feelings of thankfulness and by writing letters of gratitude or recording those feelings in a journal.

According to workplace research conducted by Chancellor, Layous & Lyubomirsky (2015), employees who were asked to recall three positive events at work over a six week period demonstrated increased levels of happiness and physical activity compared to a control group, who simply recorded their completed tasks. The findings of this research suggest that the process of recalling positive workplace experiences may encourage employees to become more work oriented, building their sense of organisational citizenship. In addition, the activity of recalling positive events reduced the time spent in social interactions, in favour of focusing on the task of writing. The researchers argue that far from being a negative outcome, decreasing social interactions results in fewer and more meaningful interactions.

While the field is still growing in terms of testing relationships between positive emotions and their outcomes, the relationship between benefit driven gratitude and raised happiness and workplace activity levels is intriguing.

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Armenta, C. N., Fritz, M. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2017). Functions of Positive Emotions: Gratitude as a Motivator of Self-Improvement and Positive Change. Emotion Review9(3), 183–190.

Chancellor, J., Layous, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2015). Recalling Positive Events at Work Makes Employees Feel Happier, Move More, but Interact Less: A 6-Week Randomized Controlled Intervention at a Japanese Workplace. Journal of Happiness Studies16(4), 871–887.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist56(3), 218–226.

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