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Gratitude Is the Best Reward

Posted Oct 22 2008 9:30pm

About once a week I am blessed to receive an email from a reader who passes along an uplifting story about a leader who exemplifies one of The Five Practices. Two weeks ago it was a note about coach Noel Klippenstein at Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia that prompted me to write about youth leadership. This week it's a story passed along by Beth Anderson, Diaconal Minister at Concordia College in Moorehad, Minnesota. Beth told us about a bank in Fargo, North Dakota, the State Bank and Trust, that "thoroughly illustrates the points you are making about Encouraging the Heart…" They've been featured on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and Beth pointed us to the video link about the "Generous Bank Pays It Forward." Click on the link and take a look and listen for yourself.

When asked what they don't like about the bank, State Bank and Trust employees say things like "I haven't found anything yet," "I have to go home," and, with tongue in cheek, management "smiles too much." It's not surprising to learn that this feeling of love for the company is a result of a very conscious strategy. The mission of State Bank and Trust, says Michael Solberg, Chief Operating Officer, is "happy employees, happy customers."

Last year the bank did something quite unusual. In addition to the more traditional year-end bonus and contribution to employees' 401K plan, State Bank and Trust granted an extra $1,000 bonus with one important condition. The money could not be given to an employee, nor could it be given to a family member. It had to be paid forward to a person in need in the community, and the good deed had to be documented for everyone to see.

One woman paid for an abandoned kitten to get life-saving surgery. Another gave it to a young, struggling new widow, and another bought DVDs and DVD players for the local cancer ward. The faces on the employees, as they passed along the money to those in need, communicated the central message. Giving to others brought great joy and happiness to those who gave. As correspondent Steve Hartman reports, "this gift of giving is truly the best bonus they have ever gotten."

A feeling of gratitude is, in fact, one of the secrets to happiness. In her book The How of Happiness, Sonia Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, writes "The expression of gratitude is a kind of metastrategy for achieving happiness. Gratitude is many things to many people. It is wonder; it is appreciation; it is looking at the bright side of a setback; it is fathoming abundance; it is thanking someone in your life; it is thanking God; it is 'counting blessings.'" She then goes on to cite research that demonstrates that "People who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and to report more experiencing more positive emotions." Grateful individuals are also more helpful and more forgiving than those who are less disposed to gratefulness. Is it any coincidence, then, that the folks at State Bank and Trust are so happy?

Gratitude, according to Lyubomirsky, boosts happiness it eight ways. First, it promotes savoring positive life experiences. Second, expressing gratitude increases a sense of self-worth. Third, it helps you cope with stress. Fourth, it encourages moral behavior. Fifth, gratitude helps build social bonds. Sixth, it inhibits envy. Seventh, because gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions it can diminish anger and bitterness. And lastly, it keeps us from taking the good things for granted.

The next time you want to uplift your own spirits, make a gratitude list. Reflect on and make a list of three to five things for which you are grateful at that moment. (Lyubomirsky recommends that we do this daily.) And encourage your constituents to do the same. Maybe you could even start your next team meeting by having everyone go around the room and complete the sentence, "today I am grateful for….." It may not be a conventional business meeting opener, but think about how happy everyone will be when they hear all that positive stuff.

And let me reveal a personal secret. Every morning when I wake up I look at my wife and I tell her, "I am the luckiest man in the world." That's how I feel, and it sure does help us both to start the day on a positive note.

Thank you for reading this blog. I am truly grateful for your interest.

Posted by
Jim Kouzes

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