Three Ways to Find Gratitude in a Challenging Work Environment

Strategy 1: Gratitude is an Attitude!

When my daughter was 10, we tried an experiment at the mall. First, we pretended we were miserable on a bench, grimacing at people walking by. The result: People looked away, ignored us, some even rolled their eyes. Then, we flipped the script, acting happy, smiling at the people passing us. The result: People smiled back. They said hello, they engaged in conversation, they complimented us. The difference was dramatic.

Embrace the “Law of Attraction”
The Law of Attraction is the belief that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life. If you smile throughout the day and focus on positive outcomes, you’re more likely to be surrounded by smiling faces, collaboration, and good energy. It’s difficult to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of negatively that is often at the heart of toxic organizations. Embracing an “Attitude of Gratitude,” which is feeling and expressing appreciation, even when it may not seem obvious, is a game changer. Gratitude is the opposite of being discontented or feeling like a victim. We have a choice on how we face each new day at work. It’s very easy to focus on what’s wrong, such as feeling:

  • Overwhelmed: I have too much to do, not enough time. I hate going to work.
  • Frustrated: My company has many conflicting/unaligned objectives and I cannot get the collaboration needed to be successful.
  • Bored, unmotivated: I cannot get inspired at work; the days seem to never end.
  • Unappreciated: My manager doesn’t recognize or appreciate all I do or the     complexities of my job.
  • Demoralized: I have “Customers from Hell” that suck the energy right out of me.
  • Anxious: I am losing sleep worrying that I might fail. “No one can possibly do this job.”
  • Defeated: It doesn’t matter what I do or how hard I try, it’s just going to be more of the same crap.
  • Sad: I’m miserable and I don’t want to be here.
  • Fear: I might lose my job.

And the list could go on and on. But, what if we choose each day focusing on the positive, such as feeling:

  • snoopyFortunate: I am grateful to have a decent job in a tough economy
  • Social:  I have an opportunity to work with some
    incredible people
  • Valued: I will make a difference today; I will add value.
  • Helpful: I will help others at work and that makes me feel good.
  • Successful: I have a list of tasks I will complete today; it will be important and appreciated.
  • Happy: I’m going to have fun at work and bring a smile to people around me.
  • Confident: My happiness will not be impacted by the challenging circumstances or negative people.
  • Optimistic: I will conquer the adversity and appreciate that I worked through it.
  • Intelligent: I learn by working through adversity, which will help me in the future.
  • Motivated: I am in control of my own happiness and I can thrive working through
    difficult situations.

The first and second set of bullets reflect the mall experiment with my daughter. Feeling happy and grateful is a choice. I’ve learned that going to work with a smile, bring smiles to others, and focusing on the positives is liberating. I often fall back into spurts of negativity. When I do, I try to carve out time to be mindful and reflect on the positives.

Strategy 2: Finding Gratitude by keeping things in perspective
One day after a long day at work, I was feeling overwhelmed and angry. My workload was impossible, I disappointed my colleagues and no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t good enough or soon enough. I was venting to my partner Kris. Her feedback was profound. “I’m a pediatric respiratory therapist. I deal with very sick children, many of whom are severely disabled or terminally ill. If my co-workers or I make a mistake, someone could die. I know you feel overwhelmed and frustrated. I understand that you cannot get done everything expected of you when needed. I see it bothers you when your colleagues or customers are upset. But, who’s going to die because you didn’t get everything done today?” When under duress at work, I often remind myself, “no one is going to die.” That doesn’t mean I don’t care or it’s not important, but that little reminder sure helps me in the moment. It also helps me appreciate that in the scheme of things, my job doesn’t have some of the challenges of healthcare, public safety, or military workers who must deal with life and death scenarios regularly.

Even in the difficult situations, you can find gratitude
I’ve been in horrible jobs. I’ve had hot-headed, narcissistic bosses. I’ve been with companies that were slowly toothbrushdying and painfully downsizing. I have worked in jobs where I felt like I was the only who cared. I’ve been laid off and struggled to find a new job. What I have learned through a lot of tough life lessons, is that an attitude of gratitude provides a mental shift from feeling like a victim to feeling responsible and in control of my own happiness. That’s not easy when ingrained in difficult situations. Persevering and getting through the tough times are among my proudest accomplishments. A more simplistic example is when I go to the gym. I don’t look forward to working out and I cannot wait until I’m done. But when it’s over, I am glad I did it and I feel better. Any knowing that’s how I will feel in the end, makes it worth it!

Strategy 3: You don’t have to own the negative emotions of others
A brutal reality of being in a demanding, high stress job, is that there can be many situations where I may disappoint my colleagues, customers and/or suppliers. I try to prioritize my work and manage expectations accordingly. Sometimes I just cannot satisfy all my internal and external customers. I know some will get very angry because it’s impacting their jobs.

Don’t take things personally
I don’t have to own the anger or disappointment of others, especially when I know I’m trying my best. In Don Miguel Ruiz’ book, The Four Agreements, his second Agreement states, “Don’t take things personally.” Ruiz states, “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering…Taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption everything is about me.” Not taking things personally doesn’t mean I don’t care. Quite the contrary, I do care. I want to do a good job and I need to listen to the individuals I impact. But, I don’t have to own their negative emotions. In the end, all I can do is try my best (Agreement #4 of The Four Agreements) and hope no one is going to die!

Maintaining Gratitude
not personalI’ve come up with three daily rituals that seem to help me find my happier place. First, when I wake up in the morning, I ask myself, “What can I look forward to today? What good deeds do I hope to accomplish?” Second, at the end of my work day, I ask, “How did I add value today? What did I do to make a difference?” I love feeling great about what I accomplished at work. Feeling pride in my accomplishments is a form of gratitude. Finally, when I climb into bed at night, I ask, “What do I have to be grateful for?” Fortunately, I have a very long list in both my personal and work life. One thing I know for sure, life is much more pleasant when I feel like smiling with gratitude.

6 thoughts on “Three Ways to Find Gratitude in a Challenging Work Environment

  1. Wow. A great post and perfectly timed. One of the items I’m adding to the “count my blessings” list: finding this post. I’m bookmarking it and will revisit whenever I feel like I’m leaning toward the negative. Thanks for sharing.


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