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The Science of Gratitude: Boosting Morale and Mental Health in the Workplace

By Amy Ouzoonian

thank you in various languages
science of gratitude

Gratitude, a simple yet transformative emotion, has been thought of as a concept only observed in the world of philosophy and spirituality. However, in recent years, the science community has delved deeper into understanding its tangible effects on our mental and physical well-being. Within the workplace, where stress and pressure are everyday occurrences, tapping into the power of gratitude can work wonders for morale and mental health both at home and at work.

The Biological Perspective

At the core of our being, every emotion we experience can trigger a cascade of biological reactions. Gratitude is no exception. When we express or receive gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our mood. These 'feel-good' chemicals enhance our mood instantly, making us feel happy from the inside.

A study from the National Institutes of Health highlighted that when we think about gratitude, the brain's ventromedial prefrontal cortex becomes activated. This region is linked to decision-making, reward evaluation, and altruistic behavior.

Gratitude and Stress Reduction

Gratitude reduces feelings of envy, makes our memories happier, and lets us experience good feelings. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, gratitude was directly linked to reduced depressive symptoms and increased overall well-being.

Furthermore, gratitude practices can reduce the cortisol levels in our body by 23%, according to a study conducted at the University of California, Davis. Lower cortisol levels mean reduced stress and a calmer demeanor, both of which are essential for a thriving workplace.

Promoting Resilience

Challenging times, setbacks, and failures are inevitable, but gratitude helps us cope better. A study from the Journal of Positive Psychology found that gratitude could foster resilience in the aftermath of traumatic events.

Building Stronger Relationships

In the context of the workplace, expressing gratitude can create positive relationships. Whether it's between a manager and an employee, or among peers, a simple 'thank you' can go a long way. It acknowledges effort, fosters trust, and builds a supportive work environment.


Incorporating gratitude into Human Resources (HR) practices can not only boost morale and well-being but also enhance overall productivity and retention rates. Below are some HR-specific resources and actionable ideas that can be implemented to show gratitude towards employees:

1. Employee Recognition Programs


-Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us"by Daniel H. Pink: This book offers insights into how recognition can be a powerful motivator.

- SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) Guides: SHRM often provides comprehensive guides and toolkits on employee recognition best practices.


- Host a monthly or quarterly award ceremony to recognize outstanding performance.

- Implement a peer recognition program where employees can acknowledge and appreciate their colleagues.

2. Professional Development Opportunities


-LinkedIn Learning: Offers a plethora of courses in various domains.

-Harvard Business Review (HBR) articles: Frequently publishes pieces on the importance of continuous learning and its impact on employee satisfaction.


- Offer sponsored courses or certifications to employees.

- Organize workshops or seminars focusing on skill development.

3. Wellness and Well-being Initiatives


- The Wellness Way by Jennifer Flynn: A guide to establishing and enhancing workplace wellness programs.

- Wellness Council of America (WELCOA): Provides resources and strategies for implementing workplace wellness programs.


- Offer gym membership discounts or partner with local fitness centers. Or take advantage of MotivateU's online classes.

- Organize regular mental health and mindfulness workshops.

4. Flexibility and Work-Life Balance


- Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson: Discusses the benefits and challenges of remote work.

- Workplace Flexibility Toolkit from the U.S. Department of Labor: Provides strategies and practices to promote work-life balance.


- Implement flexible working hours.

- Offer opportunities for remote work or telecommuting.

5. Personalized Gifts and Tokens of Appreciation


- 365 Ways to Say Thank You to Your Employees by Rhonda Reagh, Ph.D.: Offers unique and innovative ideas to express gratitude.

- Snappy Gifts: A platform that allows companies to send personalized gifts to their employees.


- Send hand-written thank-you notes for significant achievements.

- Offer personalized gifts on work anniversaries or birthdays.

6. Feedback and Open Communication Platforms


-Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity"** by Kim Scott: Talks about the importance of open feedback and communication.

- TINYpulse: A platform that allows for anonymous employee feedback and suggestions.


- Organize regular one-on-one feedback sessions.

- Set up an anonymous suggestion box for employees to voice concerns or provide feedback.

Incorporating gratitude into HR practices doesn't require extravagant gestures. Often, simple, genuine acts of appreciation resonate the most with employees. By using these resources and activities, HR departments can cultivate an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated.

Resources for Further Reading

1. 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.

2. Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don't get ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. St. Martin's Griffin.

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