Why Living With Gratitude Will Make You a Happier, More Effective Leader

There’s nothing quite like the holidays—when people come together to meet with friends and family and reflect on the last 12 months. It’s my favorite time of year, and for many of us, it’s one of the only moments we stop to truly count our blessings. Most of the time, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle of our everyday lives and forget to think about all the good happening around us.

I recently watched an episode of SuperSoul Sunday in which Oprah Winfrey interviewed Brother David Steindl-Rast, a 91-year-old Benedictine monk, who authored several books including A Good Day: A Gift of Gratitude and Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. In the episode, Brother David discusses the one thing all humans have in common: a yearning to be happy. And not just any kind of happy—the kind of happy that lasts: joy.

Joy can’t be found in material items; it isn’t based on your financial standing or the accomplishments that you’ve earned on your path. Just think about it: There are people who seem to have everything yet they aren’t happy, and those who have nothing but they are joyful at their core.

So, what is the secret to finding joy in life? According to Brother David, the key to long-term happiness is grateful living.

“Gratefulness is a way of being,” he says. “At every moment, life gives you the opportunity to do something with what life gives you… Grateful living means learning to avail yourself, moment by moment, of that opportunity. Most of the time it's the opportunity to enjoy.”

Don’t wait until you lose your sight to appreciate that you can see, says Brother David. There will be times when life deals you a bad hand, but you shouldn’t wait for that to happen before you decide to count your blessings. Grateful living infuses victory into moments when it may be easier to count our losses; it looks at life’s worst experiences and shifts the perspective to make them life-giving.

As leaders, it’s crucial to think about how we are giving life to those who follow us, worrying less about our own joy and more about the joy of others.

“Leaders, you have an opportunity,” writes Judith W. Umlas in her book, Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results. “First and foremost, it is to be deeply grateful for the opportunity you have to lead people… You want to establish an atmosphere in which the people you lead can thrive, and not just survive.”

Judith shares five Cs of grateful leadership that not only allow you to express your gratitude and appreciation to your team members, but also help foster grateful living within the lives of each person on your team. They are:

1. Consciousness. Be aware of what you’re grateful for. Make note of them as they cross your mind.

2. Choice. Know you are the only person who can make the decision to either show your gratitude, keep it to yourself or not recognize it at all.

3. Courage. Expressing gratitude is an act of vulnerability. Summon the courage to speak up and encourage vulnerability within your team as well.

4. Communication. Consider the best way to reach the person you want to thank.

5. Commitment. Let showing gratitude become a habit and commit yourself to being a grateful leader. You’ll see your team members come alive, take more initiative and be more engaged in the work they do.

William Arthur Ward once said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” As you continue with your day, think about what you’re grateful for. Stop, take a breath and enjoy the gifts you have around you.

Then, look beyond yourself and consider how you can encourage grateful living among your team. It’s more than just leading by example; it’s how you express gratitude to them that makes them want to pay it forward in their own lives.