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The Neuroscience of Giving & Receiving Thanks


Expressing gratitude at work can have a major effect on company culture.

In fact, UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, author of The Little Book of Gratitude: Creating a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks says “Lack of gratitude is a major factor driving job dissatisfaction, turnover, absenteeism, and often, burnout.”

Positive things happen in our brains when we give and receive appreciation.

How does giving and receiving thanks affect our brains and impact the world around us?

The Science of Giving & Receiving Thanks

Increases our value and feelings of self-worth- When another person affirms our work or effort we feel validated and it can help us to feel like our contributions matter. 

Strengthens relational bond of a team- One example of this is a psychological study where new members of a sorority reported feeling more gratitude towards older sorority women who gave them gifts. The women also ended up experiencing higher relationship quality and satisfaction.

Boost productivity- Research has shown that productivity at work can increase up to 50% just from expressing gratitude. There was a study reported by Harvard Medical School and done by researchers at the Wharton School. In the study, the University of Pennsylvania was running a fundraiser. The director of the fundraising team just told her team I’m grateful for all of your hard work and we appreciate your contributions to the university.” After the team had received this appreciation they made 50% more phone calls.

Expressing gratitude can contribute to an increase in well-being- Psychological studies show that grateful adults report higher levels of well-being than those who are less grateful.

Creates a magnetic ripple effect– Science proves that positive reinforcement impacts individual and team performance through modeling. A recent study discovered that when individuals in the study helped others and then they were thanked for their efforts, they were more likely to not only help that same person in the future but to help others as well.

Impacts both the giver and the receiver– Think back to a time when you have expressed appreciation to a team member. It felt good to know that you were affirming them. Then flip the coin and think about a time when one of your team members told you what a good job you did on a project. Chances are it made you feel great and it encouraged you to want to keep giving it your best.

Creates less friction in the workplace- When your organization is a place where everyone communicates positively to one another, it makes it much easier when issues arise, and negative feedback needs to be given. A University of Kentucky study proved that gratitude can reduce aggression. Those who practiced gratitude showed more empathy toward others and were less likely to retaliate when given negative feedback.

A Psychological Model of Happiness

Countless studies show that gratitude and overall happiness are linked together. Here’s a model that displays the 5 core pillars of psychological well-being.

PERMA Model by Dr. Seligman the founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

P = Positive Emotion: feeling good, optimism, pleasure and enjoyment.

E = Engagement: doing fulfilling work, having exciting hobbies, immersing oneself in a sense of “flow”.

R = Relationships: deep social connections, love, intimacy, and emotional and physical interaction with others.

M = Meaning: having a purpose in life.

A = Accomplishment: setting and pursuing goals, realizing your ambition, living with a sense of achievement.

Thanksgiving and gratitude have a powerful effect on the mind. Thanksgiving is also the foundation for recognizing and showing appreciation to your employees. This time of year, we’re all more mindful of being thankful. Let’s carry that gratefulness all year long and share it with our organizations and everyone we come into contact with.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Maybe this has something to do with how two people sitting side by side can have such different engagement levels at their workplace. One is grateful (this job is my ticket to getting the things I need and want), while the other is ungrateful (I hate having to get up and come to work every day). Something to think about.

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