What’s your attitude when it comes to grat[t]titude?

Thanksgiving in the US is always a big feast, and as every year I ate too much and moved too little. Regardless of what you did over this holiday and what it stands for, its ‘headline’ is always a good reminder when it comes giving thanks in general.  A few months ago, I snapped this picture of this billboard by artist Peter Tunney’s on my way into Grand Central. What a coincidence (or not?) that I was holding Sonia Lyubomirsky’s bestseller ‘The How of Happiness’ in my hands as I looked up. Lyubomirsky, a Stanford trained psychologist, has done extensive research on happiness and according to her, expressing gratitude is a “kind of meta strategy for achieving happiness”. And it is happiness that causes success, not the other way around (as many of us who are stuck in the ‘rat race’ are often led to believe).  Latest research shows that when we are happy and when our outlook on life is positive, we tend to be more creative, more engaged at work and as a result more productive and successful. 1

My coaching at Columbia and with organizations that have built solid young high potential programs often allows me to partner with Millenials (btw, here a nice clip that explains that entire generation question). And different from my generation (Generation X) or that of the baby boomers, many of these Millenials don’t give the fact that happiness functions as the cause of success a second thought. In order to thrive and succeed at work, they seek to be where they can be most fulfilled and where an organization’s values are aligned with their own.

Just take the story of Dave*, a young executive in a big five accounting firm. Having been with the firm for three years, he had recently been promoted to the next seniority level and was on fast track to becoming manager. Yet his motivation at work was at an all time low. He was putting in 12 to 14 hour days, lunch at his desk was pretty much expected, and he no longer had the energy after work for his passion to play the guitar. Dave also saw his young marriage falling apart as he was expected to travel throughout the week and only come home on the weekends. Dave’s fatigue was starting to show and his supervisor was letting him know that “he needed to push the gas pedal or the promotion to manager in two years was at serious risk.”

And this is what Dave did – he “pushed the gas pedal” and left the firm. Today, Dave is thriving again, but this time in a successful technology start up where he can focus on his passion for programming and, during the working day, is expected to play a few tunes on his guitar – as having fun at work and taking breaks to renew was not a dispensable luxury or reward, but an elemental part of the company’s culture. On a personal level, both he and his wife enjoy a stronger relationship and higher life satisfaction.

Should you be intrigued to say ‘thank you’ more often to boost your own happiness and performance as a leader, here is a quick assessment that can be found on the Berkeley site, adapted from the Appreciation Scale by Nancy Fagley, PhD and associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University and psychologist Mitchel Adler, PsyD:


When it comes to my work with Dave, in addition to aligning his work with his signature strengths and what matters to him, I have asked him to make saying ‘thanks’ a habit, to make sure that he (and as a result his success) receives the right kind of ‘vitamin intake’ to maintain his happiness and ensure a healthy career progression…and as it comes to me, I have started a gratitude ritual where once a week I write a letter of gratitude to people that have been particularly kind to me over these past years. The best piece is that it not only makes me a happier and more productive person and coach, it sends a piece of that to another person.

So, as you think of the people who have been at your side in particular moments of your life and career, the people about whom you would say,”Without this person I would never have gotten as far as I have in life. They were there when I needed them the most. Without them I would not be who I am today.”

Write down three names and next to them note down a particular moment that made a lasting impression on you. Where were you? What did these people do or say? How did you feel and what did you take away from these experiences?


1 Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage. Random House, New York.