Although we should endeavour to make gratitude a year-round practice—especially in the workplace, where we all too often forget to express thanks—there is no denying that the value of being grateful is front-of-mind this time of year. Business leaders should take the holiday break as an opportunity to engage in gratitude activities that can translate into lasting habits.
A core part of any executive coaching practice is encouraging clients to regularly pause and reset: to step away from the noise and get in touch with their most authentic self. Holidays are a ready-made reset button, allowing us to step away from the daily grind and reconnect with others and with ourselves. Use that opportunity mindfully, and you will find the benefits last long after the holidays are over.
Take a sense and savor stroll
As we gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, it is customary for us to take a nice long walk—either before or after a meal. Whether we do it alone or with others, this is a chance to rediscover the joys of walking simply for the pleasure of the activity itself. We are not walking to get somewhere, and we are not on the clock. There is no need to check our cell phones. We can let go and lose ourselves in the sensation of experiencing our surroundings.
A sense and savor walk is very much a kind of mindfulness. As with meditation, the goal is to eliminate distraction and focus on the present. Pay attention to your breath, to the sensation of your footfall. Feel the air on your face, smell the trees, the leaves on the ground. Listen to the birds. Pause and take in the view.
One reason a savoring walk has been shown to do wonders for mental health is that it encourages us to feel awe. Immersing ourselves in nature is especially conducive to a sense of awe, but close attention can yield awe and wonder in any setting. We might notice the rooftop garden of a building or the reflection of clouds in a puddle. Research into awe finds it shares a good deal in common with gratitude. It makes us less self-centered and reinforces feelings of connection to the world and others. Awe and wonder may also enhance creative thinking.
Have an in-depth conversation
The holiday also presents us with numerous opportunities to connect with loved ones. Some are people we may not have seen for a while. While others, we may have the chance for a more leisurely conversation than usual. Either way, we can renew our ability to enjoy human connection for its own sake. We have no strategic objective in mind, there is no transaction involved. We are just there to listen, share, and be present.
Having an in-depth conversation with someone is a simple way of expressing gratitude. We show we value them by sharing two of our most precious possessions: time and attention. Like other gratitude practices, a meaningful conversation strengthens feelings of connectedness to something larger than ourselves. Try delving beneath the surface and sharing something you would not typically share to amplify connection.
Research finds a link between the frequency of deep discussions and overall happiness. Such conversations help us explore and create meaning, a fundamental human need. As Socrates famously stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Express gratitude at the table
Rather than put the focus of saying grace on one person and then moving on to the meal, give everyone a chance to express thanks if the spirit moves them. Alternatively, you can distribute index cards and have people write down what they are most grateful for. Or you can encourage people to share their favorite holiday memory. Such exercises can seem awkward at first—but once someone has broken the ice, people welcome being able to share.
After the holiday, consider bringing this practice into the workplace. While we typically sit around a conference table with a strategic objective or pressing need in mind, coming together around a table is still about finding connection and common ground. There is nothing wrong with starting a weekly staff meeting with a brief expression of thanks for something that has gone well, or praise for a job well done.
Similarly, we can seek to translate the other two practices covered here into regular habits. Make an effort to take at least one twenty-minute savoring walk a week. You can also explore the option of a more deliberate practice of walking meditation.
Make time for deep, meaningful conversations. A recurring source of stress I see in my executive clients is a feeling they are not investing sufficiently in maintaining relationships. I encourage them to block out time for connection and schedule lunches or walks just as they would an important business meeting.
Thanksgiving is an opportunity not only to express thankfulness for our blessings—but to plant seeds of habits that will keep us in a gratitude mindset throughout the year.