The more you give away, the more you have. There’s plenty of science and literature that talks about the law of attraction but also about the law of expansion, which says the things you put your attention and time to tend to expand. If you focus your time and effort on what’s important to you, there’s a higher probability it will expand. By focusing your attention on the practice or habit of gratitude, the number of things you’re grateful for expands and the more you focus your attention on them. Whatever emotional state we’re in affects those around us.
In ancient times, if the tribe or clan rejected you, there was a higher probability of you not surviving. We are wired to fit in and be accepted by our kinsmen. We are wired to be in a relationship with others, and to be keenly aware, even subconsciously, of the emotional states of those around us so that we are prepared and ready should someone move into a fit of rage or other severe negative emotion. And when you are so wired toward protection and survival, it is also quite difficult at the same time to be open, innovative, take risks, challenge the status quo, enjoy a good debate, or seek win-win solutions for everyone’s needs to be considered and met.
It should be no surprise that the highest performing teams are the ones that treat each other with great care and make sure all voices are being heard equally and respectfully. That is why creating a habit of being grateful and expressing gratitude can have such a dramatic improvement on a team’s performance. When you’re in a place of gratitude, it’s hard not to be positive, which affects your interactions and communication with others.
There’s an acronym, ARE, that I often use with my clients. It stands for Appreciation, Recognition, and Encouragement and these three things are often some of the most important gifts we can give to another. Regrettably, I also find that they are often the least given by leaders to those that work for them. I have given more than 1,900 leadership assessments over the last 21 years. The assessment I use has 179 elements that people evaluate other leaders on. “Readily gives praise” is usually one of the lowest scored items for leaders. My encouragement to leaders is to give as much ARE as possible. Of course, it must be sincere, and to make it sincere, the leader must look for and pay attention to the good so that they can appreciate, recognize, and encourage the good. And when you focus on the good, it expands and infects others!
I love to challenge client groups I speak to by asking, “How many employees have you heard of who went to HR to quit or complain because they were sick and tired of all the appreciation, recognition, and encouragement they were receiving from their leadership and peers?” I have asked this question to thousands of people, and I am still waiting to hear of even one case. I am very certain I never will. We know the real answer is that when high performers leave their employers it is often because of their boss, who too often either does not say much of anything at all to them about their performance or instead finds all the things that are wrong and need to be fixed. Think about the world we would have if every day employees went home to their families filled with ARE. They would pass that on to their children and spouses, who might even pass it on to extended family members and friends. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have. This practice is about filling ourselves up with gratitude, so that we are in a place to give it away.
What’s especially beautiful about gratitude is that the more we have, the more we can give away. And the more we give away, the more we have. You have to love that virtuous cycle.
When noted neurologist and author Oliver Sacks learned he had terminal cancer at age eighty-two, he didn’t spend much time in despair. He was filled with gratitude for the incredible life he had been lucky enough to live. Here is what he wrote regarding his sense of gratitude: “I cannot pretend I am without fear, but my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written… Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”