A few weeks ago, I was discussing the topic of stress and well-being with my students in class. Our focus was on the importance of monitoring your well-being and managing your stress when you’re in a leadership position. Being a manager and having to get work done through a team is tough work, and it’s often full of stressors which, left unchecked, can take a toll on the manager.
That toll can include negative outcomes such as:
- Reduced productivity,
- And a host of physical symptoms, from higher blood pressure to weight gain.
So it’s critical for managers of all levels to take care of themselves, both mentally and physically.
As the class went on, I discussed the importance of self-care for managers and how it can include many techniques, but one that I find particularly interesting is something that’s free and relatively easy. That technique?
It turns out that gratitude has a number of beneficial outcomes. It helps us build productive social relationships, and it seems to protect us from stress and depression. (See this report of two longitudinal studies on the topic.)
And overall, being grateful for the positive things we have in life is strongly linked to well-being.
Given this evidence regarding the role of gratitude, I took a moment in class to encourage gratitude.
“Take out a piece of paper,” I said, “and write down as many things as you can think of for which you are grateful in your life.”
Some people started writing right away; others froze motionless. A few others looked at me quizzically, as if to suggest, “I haven’t really done anything in my life yet, so what’s there to be so happy about?”
As they started this exercise, I looked at them all and thought about their situations and how it compares with millions of other people’s situations, either in the United States or around the world, particularly in war-torn or developing countries I’ve visited.
And then I said, “You are sitting in a college classroom in the United States of America. You have already won the lottery.”
Those who weren’t already busy creating their gratitude list now at least had a place to start.
And so, for the rest of us, what’s the implication? Well, you, too, have already won the lottery. You’re literate (almost 16 percent of adults in the world aren’t) and you’re part of the 40 percent of the world that currently has an internet connection. That’s pretty good, just to start. And beyond that, count yourself among a much smaller, even more fortunate group if you (1) live in relative safety, (2) have access to clean drinking water and (3) have reasonable access to health and dental care. That’s not even considering your education, your job-related skills, your valued relationships and numerous other aspects of your life that truly set you apart from many in the world.
For whatever reason, it’s easy to think about what we don’t have. But that’s unproductive. It’s only going to make you feel more stressed and lower your well-being.
Instead, take a few minutes every day and think about your gratitude list. Even better, write them down in a gratitude journal.
Because if you do, I’m fairly certain you’ll be happier and less stressed. And that’s yet another thing for which—you guessed it—you can be grateful.
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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit: www.benbaran.com.