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  • Writer's pictureThe Grateful Academic

6 ways to cultivate gratitude

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

gratitude /ˈɡratɪtjuːd/ noun the quality or feeling of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness


Working in higher education recently has been tough... really tough! Decisions about educational provision during the pandemic have been made at breakneck speed over the past 8 months, and every day a new twist in the story seems to come along - just when you think you've got to grips with the 'new normal'.

I have worked in higher education in the UK for almost a decade, but I have never before seen so much pressure on the shoulders of academics. I've seen colleagues at breaking point and starting to doubt their roles - imposter syndrome has never been more prevalent.

At the start of this academic year, I also felt massively under pressure. I was redesigning materials for online and face-to-face delivery across multiple undergraduate programmes. It was challenging and exhausting, but around me, there were colleagues saying thank you, that my work was appreciated and acknowledging how hard it was. Those two words... 'thank you'. Never before had they been so important and so appreciated.

I am fortunate. I work in a department where camaraderie has always been good and support is forthcoming, but with these new pressures, I was seeing something extra. A new level of understanding, a new awareness of caring, and a new level of team spirit. I was so grateful to work in such a supportive team.

This support was coming at a time when there has been much fear about all the disruption to our normal teaching practices, fear about in person teaching, fear about digital delivery, fear about learning new software, fear about whether we could deliver the experience that we wanted for our students and if we were going to be able to support them academically and pastorally through the pandemic.

One day, I was in an online meeting, where comments could be submitted through a chat function. Posting for the first time, I gave thanks to all of the administrative staff who were working so tirelessly, and without whom the teaching delivery simply couldn't function. I posted under the name, 'The Grateful Academic'. To my surprise and delight, the post become the most popular of the session, and even inspired others to post similar appreciative comments. That evening I set about thinking about gratitude, giving thanks and why we do it - the Grateful Academic blog was born!

Giving thanks is a returning response to someone doing something for us. Sometimes it is an expected part of routine courtesy; if someone hands you something, gives you a gift for example we are hard-wired to say, 'thank you'. So what constitutes a gift at work and should we expect thanks for 'just' doing our jobs? For me it's a resounding, yes.

Thanks in the workplace is often reserved for when people go 'over and above', or when you have asked someone to do something extra for you, or out of the ordinary. But why not say thank you to people more regularly for doing their job? You'll probably make that person's day.

So, if we accept that receiving thanks makes a big difference, what about the impact of actually saying thank you and how the person showing gratitude also gains?

Giving thanks makes us acknowledge what we have, and take a moment to reflect. In a way, giving thanks makes us slow down. It makes us change our viewpoint, providing us with the opportunity to step into another's shoes and realise how much they are doing. It isn't necessarily big things either, saying thank you for the simplest things can be really powerful.

What also appears to be true, is that witnessing a gracious act can start a cycle of gratitude. One person showing that outward display of gratitude, starts others reflecting and acknowledging the good around them. Of course, you could argue that suggesting that gratitude will be perpetuated in this way is a rather rose tinted view. But, do you now what, the world can't hurt for a bit of a rose-tinted viewpoint right now.

Here are 6 ways to cultivate gratitude in daily life, that I find particularly work for me. Have you found others that work for you? Have a read below and there is also a linked article from Harvard Health, "Giving thanks can make you happier" and a research paper from Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. "Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life" if you want to dive a bit deeper into the psychology of gratitude.

6 ways to cultivate gratitude


Links to articles and research on gratitude:

Giving thanks can make you happier. HealthBeat, Harvard Health Publishing.

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377–389.

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