Will Cultivating Gratitude Enhance A Leaders Humility And Wellbeing?

‘Whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now

I feel good, I knew that I would, now

So good, so good, I got you

Whoa! I feel nice, like sugar and spice

I feel nice, like sugar and spice

So nice, so nice, I got you’


I Got You by James Brown (click here for the song)

Personal Photo


I had two events this morning that reminded me of the importance of gratitude, and humility in leadership.


Firstly, when I arrived at the beach this morning it looked like the sun was rising over the rim of the earth. As I dived under a few waves, I realised the water was clear, the waves were a nice size and the temperature was ‘just right’. Given the heavy rain last night and the fact that it’s already autumn I reflected on how fortunate I felt to be able to swim this morning.


Later in the morning I received the following message from a client: “What was nice was that I was offered coaching to hone my skills as a new director and within the last year my boss and her boss both think I have stepped in and up at the next level. They have also now committed to another year of coaching to enable future promotions and further my career as a leader.”


"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."

Ernest Hemingway


Grateful individuals tend to have the following characteristics:

  • They would not feel deprived in life

  • They would appreciate others’ contributions to their well-being

  • They would tend to appreciate simple pleasures

  • They grateful individuals acknowledge the important role of experiencing and expressing gratitude.


What are the benefits of gratitude?


Gratitude as it relates to one’s willingness to forgive others, seems to not only strengthen relationships but to also contribute to relationship connection and satisfaction. As it increases experiences of positive emotions and gratitude also helps people to take pleasure from positive experiences. Researchers have found that gratitude motivates pro-social acts, as it influences the psychological states that support generosity and kindness. Simple expressions of gratitude, such as someone saying “thank you” increase the likelihood that people will behave pro-socially in the future.


Generosity and gratitude operate similarly at the psychological and neurobiological levels, in addition they work in ‘tandem’ creating benefits for both the giver and the recipient.



So what about humility?



“humility may be the rich soil in which gratitude can grow”

Solom, Watkins, McCurrach, & Scheibe


Gratitude is often defined as a belief that one has benefited from the actions of another, and humility is characterised by low self-focus, secure sense of self, and increased appreciation of others. When a person is consciously grateful and focused externally, humility increases. In addition, people who are humble, have an increased sensitivity to gratitude. Interestingly, researchers have found that humility and gratitude are mutually reinforcing.


Characteristics of intellectual humility include:

  • recognising one’s cognitive limits;

  • having a non-defensive stance toward one’s beliefs;

  • and respecting others’ viewpoints.

Humility is associated with a decrease in unrealistic expectations of others. Humble people do not believe that they are entitled to benefits from others, thus when others do provide them with benefits, they are much more likely to recognise the goodness and gratuitousness of the gift, thus enhancing gratitude. In addition, humble people do not expect large benefits in life, and are therefore more likely to appreciate simple pleasures. Researchers have found that the appreciation of simple pleasures is foundational to the disposition of gratitude. The humble leader is therefore also in a unique position to experience empathy and gratitude.


How does gratitude help wellbeing?


Leveraging of Barbra Fredriksson’s broaden and build model of positive emotions researchers suggest that gratitude in particular might broaden the mind in terms of interpreting negative or ambiguous situations in a more positive way, having greater positive memories for past events, and allocating more attention to positive rather than negative stimuli within the environment. This mindset may build emotional and physical resources when having to deal with stressors, leading to greater emotional health and wellbeing. Greater subjective wellbeing as a result will in turn lead to increased experience of gratitude, creating a feedback loop.


Researchers believe that gratitude may, in part, lead to increased wellbeing via changes in cognition. In particular, it may alter attention to, interpretation of, and the accessibility of memories for events with strong positive emotional connotations.


Others propose that high levels of gratitude lead to an increase in prosocial activities such as offering and receiving help, and that the perception and expression of gratitude leads to more satisfying relationships in a range of settings. Some researchers have found that increases in social support and the expression of gratitude in social relationships are associated with improved physical health.


Overall, there is a rapidly growing body of research shows that the experience of gratitude is associated with increased psychological and physical health. Specially it leads to lower symptoms of depression, increased feelings of positive emotions, and satisfaction with life, improved sleep, and proactive health behaviour.


What gets in the way?


“Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.”

Henry Ward Beecher

There are a few aspects of personality that may hinder the expression and experience of gratitude.


Researchers have found that narcissism may inhibit gratitude, when one believes that they are superior to others and one has a high sense of entitlement, all benefits from others cease to be gifts; they are simply the things that others and life owe them. Some researchers go so far to suggest that narcissists believe themselves to be ‘needless,’ and are under the ‘illusion of self-sufficiency.’ If one believes that they do not need others to contribute to their well-being, then they should be less likely to appreciate the value of the benefits that others provide, thus decreasing the recognition of the goodness of the gift, and hence preventing the experience of gratitude.


In addition, cynicism or the belief that a benefit was provided for ulterior motives, will also prevent the need for gratitude. If one is cynical about others then they are more likely to be suspicious of the motives of others, thus decreasing their recognition of the goodness of the giver and any need to be grateful.


Final Thoughts


On a personal level, whenever I get a new referral, I feel a sense of gratitude, responsibility and humility for the privilege of meeting and working with a leader who is motivated to increase their self-awareness in order to enhance their leadership capability and wellbeing. I am also extremely grateful to you, my readers, as your continued support inspires me to keep writing and researching.


So please send me an email and tell me what are you grateful for?

_________________________

References: Psychology Today. (n.d.). Privilege, Responsibility, and Nonviolence. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/acquired-spontaneity/201707/privilege-responsibility-and-nonviolence [Accessed 8 Apr. 2021]. ‌

Alkozei, A., Smith, R. and Killgore, W.D.S. (2017). Gratitude and Subjective Wellbeing: A Proposal of Two Causal Frameworks. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(5), pp.1519–1542. Kruse, E., Chancellor, J., Ruberton, P.M. and Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). An Upward Spiral Between Gratitude and Humility. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(7), pp.805–814. Krumrei-Mancuso, E.J. (2016). Intellectual humility and prosocial values: Direct and mediated effects. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(1), pp.13–28. Solom, R., Watkins, P.C., McCurrach, D. and Scheibe, D. (2016). Thieves of thankfulness: Traits that inhibit gratitude. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(2), pp.120–129. https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-research/ Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 890 – 905.

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