Networks for Change: Growing Gratitude

February 12, 2014 1 Comment

“Grateful living brings in place of greed: sharing; in place of oppression: respect; in place of violence: peace. Who does not long for a world of sharing, mutual respect, and peace?”

-Brother David Steindl Rast

The research on the role of gratitude in supporting social resilience and thriving is quite compelling. According to the Greater Good Science Center, those who have a higher gratitude quotient or a regular practice of listing and thinking about gratitudes have been shown to experience the most significant boosts in happiness and fewer bouts of illness, have stronger social bonds in one-on-one relationships and with communities, and tend to be more generous. Connected to a host of other related positive emotions, gratitude is also shown to boost people’s willingness to reach out and connect with others, including across lines of difference, to see possibility more expansively, and to maintain a general spirit of openness. What’s not to like about gratitude?

Now imagine gratitude for one multiplied many times over in an ecosystem of social interactions and connections – that is, in a network. Other research has shown how positive emotions can be contagious. What kind of greater systemic and collective capability might this create? I’m eager to find out and to do so by intentionally creating more opportunities for people in various change networks to embrace and grow gratitude. Here are some thoughts for how to do so:

  • Model gratitude by expressing it as a network facilitator/leader. Say “thank you.” Try not to take people, their time, their skills, their efforts, for granted.
  • Give gifts.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The greatest gift is a part of thyself.”  Create opportunities for people to share from their lives, what is meaningful to them, as a regular process of network meetings.
  • Create space for people to reflect on what they learned or are learning in the midst of or following difficult conversations or experiences.
  • Create a “gratitude wall,” physical or virtual or both, where network members are invited to express their appreciations of one another and what they are going through together.
  • Invoke mortality.  People tend to be more grateful when they think about the fleeting nature of reality.  I imagine doing this through pauses to reflect on the privilege of being alive and being able to engage in meaningful work, share a poem such as Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” (“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”), etc.
  • Steer clear of entitlement by emphasizing a theme of mutual dependency, reminding and showing people how they are fundamentally interconnected through network mapping exercises and reflections on the journeys and people that have contributed to who and where we are.

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