Gratitude is a powerful thing. It is associated with greater happiness, increased productivity and our connection with something larger and more powerful.

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It’s Thanksgiving and whatever our traditions, it is for most of us, a time of family, of gathering with friends, and if we can slow down long enough, a time of reflection. For me, this reflection usually leads to thoughts about gratitude.

So, I thought I would do a little reading on the subject. I read about keeping gratitude journals, writing thank you notes to friends and customers, taking time to thank those who help you. While these are kind and caring ways to express gratitude and acknowledged ways to make you and the recipient feel better, I was looking for something more.

Then, I came across this Harvard Mental Health Letter published in November 2011. Not only does this article define gratitude, it provides research (and references, as you would expect a Harvard article to do) that shows how “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”

One of the examples looks at a study from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania that even associates gratitude with greater productivity:

“Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers…randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.”

The article also offers suggestions on “ways to cultivate gratitude.”

But it was the article’s definition of gratitude that most resonated with me: “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives.”

OK. I’m tracking with this. I am grateful for the goodness in my life. It’s well said, but no light bulbs are going off yet.

But, the paragraph continues, “In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

Click! The light turned on. This may be nothing new to you, but I had never thought about gratitude this way before. I reread the sentences several times.  Gratitude is the recognition “that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals…”

To me, this means that gratitude allows us to re-calibrate our inward-facing lens and focus it outward, on other people or something larger, more powerful. Gratitude, then, is a path to connectedness, to commonality with others, to being part of the larger universe. It is a pathway to our shared humanity and our shared spirituality.

So, this Thanksgiving when I say I feel gratitude for my family, my work family, my community, for living in a country that values human rights and whose citizens help those less fortunate, I understand why.

We at Expressworks hope you can celebrate Thanksgiving with your loved ones and feel thankful for being connected.