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By Amy Blaschka – Forbes

Last month I celebrated my birthday, which always puts me in a reflective mood regarding my life and career. I tend to ask myself the big questions: What have I accomplished? Am I happy and fulfilled? Am I where I thought I’d be? And what do I want to tackle over the next year?

This practice forces me to slow down and take stock of all the good people and things in my life, and to appreciate future possibilities. In other words, it’s about being grateful.

And while this birthday tradition is wonderful, research suggests that for maximum benefit, practicing gratitude shouldn’t be limited to an annual event; we should incorporate it into our lives on a regular basis. Science tells us that there are many benefits of gratitude: a greater sense of well-being; improved sleep, optimism, and physical health; decreased aggression; and enhanced self-esteem, resilience, and empathy.

Even better? Practicing gratitude has a positive umbrella effect on those around us. Dr. David Hamilton, the author of Why Kindness is Good for You, says that when we use our awareness of others and all the good in our collective worlds, “we acknowledge the people and situations in our lives and express thanks for them.” Doing so improves our relationships and communication with others, helping them feel connected and appreciated. And then those initial recipients of our gratitude express and model their gratitude to another wave of people. It’s a virtuous cycle, and one worth repeating with your colleagues, partners, and clients.

So, how can you make practicing gratitude a daily habit? Here are two ways:

Start with someone you probably overlook: yourself.

Most of us speak and treat others far better than we do ourselves; we could use a little more self-compassion in our lives. One way to do that is to begin keeping a gratitude journal, writing down two-three “gifts”—your treasured latte, a kind driver who allowed you to merge during your commute without incident, unexpected praise from a client on a job well done—you receive a day. At those times when it seems the world is against you, grab your journal and peruse the pages for a quick mindset reset.

Also, consider incorporating meditation into your morning or evening routine. This need not be complicated or lengthy; taking even just a few minutes to close your eyes and focus on a blessing in your life can be beneficial. Neurological research shows that being grateful floods the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter and feel-good drug that enables us not only to see and take pleasure in rewards but to take action to move toward them.

When we begin appreciating the little things, we become more positive and tolerant. We move away from forming grudges and instead, become happier and more content.

Next, focus on spreading that gratitude in the workplace.

There are myriad ways to express gratitude to others, including writing a handwritten note to thank a mentor who’s had a meaningful and positive impact in your life, giving verbal props at a team meeting to a colleague for the way she handled a tricky situation, or calling a client to check-in and thank her for her business.

The key to helping make your gratitude meaningful to others, says Daniel Threlfall in this article, is to ensure that your actions align with three criteria:

1. Is it frequent? As previously mentioned, being grateful once a year (think: annual reviews and holiday parties) doesn’t cut it. Gratitude is a daily effort.

2. Is it genuine? Those people you’re trying to impress? They’ll see right through your fake thankfulness, and it will backfire, making you (and them) feel lousy. Remember, being grateful isn’t about scoring points; it’s about strengthening relationships. Be genuine with your gratitude.

3. Is it specific? Saying “thank you” to someone means so much more when it’s accompanied by specificity. When you take an extra step and include what, exactly, you’re thankful for, the receiver better understands why his or her actions incited gratitude—and is more likely to replicate them in the future.

By making gratitude a daily practice, you’ll not only improve your leadership; you’ll enhance your life

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