World Gratitude Day is Thursday, September 21.  A Google search on that one small word ‘gratitude’ will yield a plethora of articles written on the topic: why it’s good for your health, how to cultivate it, the science behind it, and so on. For those with pessimistic leanings, it can be hard to stomach such stuff. Write in a gratitude journal? Sounds daunting and time-consuming. Admire a sunset? Maybe, but most evenings you’re navigating rush hour and trying to avoid the sun’s glare as you shuffle through your things to find your sunglasses. We do not always keep gratitude at the top of our minds. Of the people who do…well, they annoy us. We imagine they live in a world where they always love their jobs, their houses remain inexplicably clean, and they go about their days with perpetual smiles on their faces. But before we dismiss the topic of gratitude entirely as saccharin, maybe we need to take another approach.

What’s so Great about Gratitude?

Some articles on the web tout the benefits of gratitude, and there are many: better sleep, better health, a more optimistic mindset, improved relationships, increased productivity, and even financial gain. Some are backed by studies and statistics and are worth reading (“The Link between Gratitude and Career Success” and “How Happiness Directly Impacts Your Success” are just a couple). What some fail to mention, however, is what exactly are we supposed to be grateful for? Perhaps the reason is obvious; as individuals each with our own free will, we are all grateful for different things in life. It’s possible even to be grateful in a less-than-altruistic way, as we are when thoughts such as “I’m so glad that didn’t happen to me” cross our minds.

Is it possible to be grateful when bad things happen to us?

A question worth posing is: can we be grateful when bad things happen to us? Can we even be grateful for those bad things? It’s one thing to be grateful for your promotion or bonus, for surpassing your goals at work, or for peace in your family. It’s also not that difficult to be grateful for smaller everyday things such as a satisfying meal, a gorgeous sunny day, or listening to your favorite music on the way to work. The harder practice of gratitude comes when things do not go our way. We are passed up on the promotion. There is strife in our family. We lose our job. Someone we love dies. Suffering is inevitable in each of our lives. At some point, it will knock on our door, and we will each have to answer alone. When circumstances seem stacked against us, how do we respond?

Grateful for the Good and Bad

It is difficult to practice, but we can learn to be grateful for hardships when we begin to see them as bringing us closer to a better version of ourselves. Sometimes, they can even help us lighten the burden of others, and thus become a way that we widen our social network and our circle of friendship. Consider, for example, someone you might know is diagnosed with cancer. The news is devastating, but she is determined to fight the battle and joins a local support group. Her story and her tenacity to live become a vehicle of inspiration to those in her group. Perhaps even unknowingly, she casts a wide net of hope over those around her. She offers her suffering, as though it were a gift, to help others. This does not change the fact that being diagnosed with cancer was awful, but it does change her character on a profound level, it changes her way of being in the world, and it changes those whose lives she touches. Are those reasons to be grateful? I’d say so.

As we practice gratitude on World Gratitude Day and everyday, we should keep in mind all that life throws at us, good and bad. In the workplace, we can be grateful for criticism, for example, because it helps us to strive to do better next time. If we think the criticism is unfounded, it can help us to develop strategies to overcome negativity in our thinking.

Gratitude in the Workplace

Managers in the workplace can create an entire culture of positivity by practicing gratitude. The following article gives practical tips for giving effective praise to employees: “The Science of Praise: A Manager’s Guide To Giving Effective Employee Praise.” For a more in-depth read, “The WOW! Workplace” gives real-world ideas on how to create a culture of recognition. Gratitude then, is not only for natural optimists, but for the rest of us as well. Creating better selves and helping others around us are outcomes we can all feel positive about.