The Gratitude Tree
Last year, we tried an experiment in gratitude. It involved a tree in the hallway near our office. The tree was just a large sticker, and next to it, a sign asked, “What are your grateful for?” The experiment asked people to simply take a post-it leaf or bird, write one small thing that they were thankful for, and put it on the tree.
“Why?” you may ask. It’s an example of gratitude in action. Last year, I experienced a rough patch. It felt like life turned me inside out. Lots of tough things were happening all at once. I wrote a blog post about it at the time, entitled, “7 Quick Tips to Survive a Bad Day.” I felt like I kept getting reminders of how large and scary the world can be, and how small and futile I felt. I felt like the world was shouting at me, “I’m big, I’m bad, and you can’t control me.” And then I read Dr. Mollie’s post on gratitude, and my own post on gratitude, and I wondered if there was a way to use that information to help me feel better about the world.
The Gratitude Experiment
So, I tried something. It seemed small. I started a gratitude board at work for the staff (and me) to use. I had done this on a personal level (with an app on my phone), but never a group level. But, I wondered if it might be helpful for my staff and me to serve as witnesses for one another’s gratitude. So I put up the board, and we gave it a try. Each day, most of us would write down something that was comforting, enjoyable, or fun.
The Gratitude Tree Results
The cool thing was that we did it, and we did it well. Daily, most of us wrote down something that we were grateful for. Many times, we were thankful for coffee and chocolate. (That’s just the kind of crew that we are, I guess). But, we were also grateful for each other, for our patients, and for the meaningful work that we are privileged enough to do. We were grateful for springtime, for sunshine, and for air-conditioning. We were grateful for soft cushions, our pets, and silly jokes. Consistent with the research, I observed that rather than being sucked in by the negativity that was niggling at us, we were lighter, smiling more, and joking more. In my opinion, we were more connected than we’d been, checking in on one another more, and supporting each other as colleagues and as friends.
I also noticed a change within myself. The world seemed smaller and more manageable. I found myself laughing more, and noticing the good more at work. Even though there were some large tasks to manage, they seemed more surmountable, and not as unpleasant as I had imagined.
I don’t know why I was surprised. After all, research tells us that by increasing our gratitude for daily things, we actually increase our attention for positive things. People who practice gratitude generally sleep better, have better energy, and exercise more often. People who practice gratitude are more resilient to stress. We were living proof that it not only helps us as individuals, but also as a group.
The Hallway of Gratitude
My next thought was, “How do I share this with my clients?” “And can I tie it into the long, very white, very boring hallway outside my office?” Turns out, the hallway became the perfect canvas for some art. It also became the perfect place to share the practice of gratitude with people who visit our office every day. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I thought it was worth trying. I wanted to share a gratitude practice with our clients and their families. I wanted our clients, when they visited our office, to also feel positivity and be more aware of the good things in the world.
Not surprisingly, I felt like I was the one who was receiving the benefit. I loved to stand and look at the tree as the leaves filled in. Also, I loved to see what people are thankful for. Furthermore, I loved to notice our blessings: other people, our pets, and nature (sunshine and plants). Sometimes, the things people are grateful for are silly, and sometimes they are very serious. But, for all of us, they are there. By noticing what we are thankful for, and sharing it with others, it not only helps us, but everyone around us too.
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