Hannah Triester, Communications Fellow

What is gratitude? The Practicing Gratitude Teach-Out from Michigan Online suggests there is no single answer. Gratitude is defined personally, as a sense of feeling thankful for positive occurrences in life. Because people live different lives, they are grateful for many unique things. These range from big-picture ideas, like having a strong sense of family or feeling satisfied and secure in your career, to small moments like enjoying your morning coffee or sleeping in on a Sunday.

With holidays approaching, many people will be reflecting on, experiencing and expressing gratitude with family, friends and acquaintances. People are also reflecting on life’s challenges and gratitude is more difficult for some to express.

Join the Conversation | Enroll in the Practicing Gratitude Teach-Out

We can all share in the practice of gratitude. Though it is not a cure-all for personal struggles or feeling down, practicing gratitude helps to sort through life’s chaos. In this Teach-Out, participants learn about many aspects of gratitude, including the science behind it. Dr. Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University, and Robert A. Emmons, a premier gratitude researcher from the University of California, Davis, offer expert insight into how we can pay closer attention to and ground ourselves in life’s positive moments—no matter how fleeting. This conscious effort has proven emotional, physical, and social benefits which every person is capable of unlocking for themselves.

Appreciating life’s small and large joys is worth expressing to others. Ryan Fehr, associate professor of management and Michael G. Foster, Endowed Fellow at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business walks learners through the interpersonal component of gratitude. Though gratitude involves inner recognition, positive outcomes occur when we communicate outwardly with those who play a role in our feelings of thankfulness.

Karen Dobkins, professor of psychology at UC San Diego, takes these connections a step further by highlighting the link between the body and mind in the practice of gratitude. She explains how the ability to trust our bodies, the way we feel our emotions, allows us to better communicate them to others, and to form closer, more productive relationships. Dobkins advocates for the importance of mindfulness, which permits a person to process emotions felt in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness strengthens connections, and ultimately prevents feelings of loneliness and isolation.

“Gratitude is part of the formula for emotional resilience because it is what we do to remind ourselves that it is all okay… gratitude is taking stock of [everything that is] okay.”

Lindsey Depledge, a yoga instructor and behavioral scientist, builds on this discussion of mindfulness with an introductory yoga class. Yoga is one example of how learners can transition the teach-out’s lessons into practice, and cement gratitude into daily considerations.

The Teach-Out concludes with resources that learners may take with them moving forward. Included are mobile app recommendations to help with gratitude practice, gratitude journal prompts and activities, and further reading on the subject. Kim Cameron, a founding member of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan and longtime gratitude researcher, offers suggestions about how a person might apply gratitude practices to workplace operations. She explains how organizations are deeply dependent on interpersonal connections and communication, and how gratitude can have a real impact on company processes.