The Gift of Gratitude

Death may seem like an unusual place to start an article about gratitude but a recent bereavement influenced my perspective. The heartbreak we experience with loss cannot be unfelt by gratitude but spending moments in thankfulness does provide comfort. This was my realization a few weeks ago when we lost my husband’s grandmother, Olga, known to everyone as Nana. She was 99.5 years old.

Determined, bright, loving, quick-witted and exceptionally insightful. She lived life fully, always engaged and interested in what was happening in the world. She was one of the wisest people I knew and my inspiration for growing older with a strong will, good health, and dignity. Eric and I had a very special connection with Nana.

My initial sadness was that she didn’t reach her 100th birthday. In conversations with Nana, we’d talk about her big party and the significance of the century landmark. She got so close but her body couldn’t quite keep up with her mind and her fighting spirit.

What helped me navigate the sadness was reframing aspects of grief into gratitude – the fact that I had gained a grandma as an adult, the invaluable lessons we learned from her that will stay with us for the rest of our lives, the extended time we had with her and the phenomenal grit she showed to make the trip from LA to New York at 96 years old to be at our wedding.

The benefits of gratitude, the emotional expression of appreciation for what we have or have been given, are well documented in the research. They include:  

  • Greater investment in physical health.
  • Increased happiness and sense of psychological well-being.
  • Higher sensitivity and empathy towards others and less desire to seek revenge or retaliate.
  • Greater resilience and lower levels of distress.
  • Improved quality of sleep.

What did leaders tell us about gratitude?

With 2018 coming to a close, we wondered what some of the leaders we know are grateful for this year professionally? So we asked them. We reached out to ten leaders we admire for who they are and what they do. Leaders that demonstrate courage, inspire us, have pursued their dreams or overcome obstacles. This is what they told us.

Jessamyn Rodriguez | Founder and President | Hot Bread Kitchen

I enacted a lot of change in 2018 and have a new appreciation for the power of mentorship and asking for help.  I am grateful for the insight I have garnered from advisors and mentors, friends and family, talented colleagues, and, frankly, even some strangers.

Khartoon Weiss | Global Head of Verticals | Spotify

2018 was a risk-taking year to enact personal and professional change. Without the counsel and confidence of those in my corner, I’d never have gotten to my goal. I am grateful for those who helped me stay steadfast through mountains of doubt. I am grateful for those who provided clarity and coaching through the unknown risks. And I am grateful for the kindness of welcoming strangers who provided me with a fast sense of belonging when I landed. It’s been a transformative year as a result of being vulnerable, literally asking for help, and trusting those who know me as well as I know myself. I kept my mind open and allowed my network to lead the way. I’m ever so grateful and committed to paying it forward.

Jonnie Cahill | Chief Marketing Officer | Heineken USA

For me, it’s the intersection of my private and professional life.  I am grateful for having the opportunity to be CMO at Heineken USA, which is entirely enabled and supported by a family, and most particularly my wife, who was prepared to move again to allow me to take this role.  So when I hit those tough moments in work, I’m truly able to get perspective and still say, “I’m lucky to be here!”

Katherine Williamson | Director Global Talent Development | VMWare

I am eternally grateful for the special people around me who, even as they themselves worked tirelessly to achieve their own successes this year, still found time to offer their help, challenge my thinking, inspire me to action and fill my cup when it was empty.

Martin Whittaker | Chief Executive Officer | Just Capital

Trust is in short supply in the world, so I’m grateful for the courage of others to trust in me and to accept my trust without complication.  

I’m grateful for acts of simple, quiet, selfless professionalism.  In a world growing louder, more complicated and more opinionated by the day, seeing colleagues apply their craft with skill, discretion and care gives me inspiration.        

Lastly, I am grateful for those who bring humor and laughter forward, even – or especially – when it’s hardest to do so. We need more of that.    

Hilary Frohlich | Founder and Director | Neat PR

I am grateful for the amazing team of people at Neat PR who bring creativity and talent to our offering. I am proud of the learning environment we have created giving graduates the opportunity to hit the ground running with support from individuals who have been in the PR industry for a number of years. We purposely don’t have job titles at Neat PR so that everyone knows they have a strong voice, and it works.

Tara Rush | Chief Corporate Affairs Office | Heineken USA

In 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to work with Vital Voices, an organization with a mission to end gender violence around the world. We conducted purpose workshops for women from 26 different countries who were working to stop human trafficking. Having the opportunity to hear their personal stories and help them on their journeys has been one of the most impactful and inspirational experiences of my life. It grounded me even further in my own purpose and in 2018 when I had to make one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever faced, it gave me the courage and razor-sharp conviction to stand up for what I believe in and truly live by my values. I will be forever grateful to those women and some very special people who offered me guidance, encouragement and love when I needed it most.

Sharmishta Chatterjee-Banerjee | Head of External Relations | Newcastle University Business School

I’ve always been grateful for the people I’ve worked with in my professional life, internal and external stakeholders and particularly my team that has enabled me to develop credibility in my career as a Higher Education professional. I also understand the contribution that academia makes to society whether it is through our research, our students or our businesses.

I was particularly grateful this year to be selected to join Newcastle University’s Black, Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) Steering group. This has provided me the opportunity to influence Equality Diversity and Inclusion by facilitating a network-driven approach towards minimising limitations and enhancing opportunities for BAME employees within the Higher Education sector in the UK.

Whilst being BAME myself, I hadn’t really worked proactively in the Diversity space previously. I am grateful that as a result of this role, I am now able to look beyond the immediate parameters of my professional life, into understanding issues that face minorities in the context of career progression. A more strategic, focused approach can provide BAME staff with the confidence to operate on a ‘level playing field’ taking into account staff perceptions of their reality. As a BAME professional, I am hugely pleased to work with the network to develop the BAME voice, identity, visibility and leadership within the UK Higher Education sector. I hope this will help the sector as a whole bridge the gaps of BAME under-representation, particularly in senior Higher Education roles.

George Walker | Vice President Diversity Equity & Inclusion | Planned Parenthood Federation of America

I am grateful for the opportunity to start a new program at a critically-important organization for health care. It’s been my passion to work towards justice and inclusion for my whole life.  Doing it in places where the mission soundly resonates with me is humbling and such a privilege.  I’ve often heard the expression, “do what you love, and the money will follow.”  I’d modify that to say, “do what you love, and your passion will be satisfied.”  I am grateful to be in a profession where I am sated.

Gail Sulkes | Director | NSQE Ltd

Thank you, Neil for the chance to participate.  I’ve come across a few people this year that live life with true intention – they seem to hold a strong positive orientation and wear it with ease and openness. I am grateful for their inspiration and the invitation not to squander time or privilege, but rather to act with clear purpose and to fill that purpose with meaning. I am also grateful for those that bring together people with different views and facilitate connectedness. We need more connection and less polarity.

So what about you?

We know this time of year can be extraordinarily busy for leaders: motivating your team to hit all important targets, meetings with customers and clients, driving projects and initiatives to fruition, planning for next year, end of year reviews….the list goes on. And you are doing all of that while trying to accomplish your obligations at home. A hectic holiday period can often involve travel, gift-buying, card-writing, grocery shopping, cooking, and house-readying.

Despite everything that you are wrapped up in, don’t let the year end without doing these three things.

1.Writing your gratitude list. Amongst all the chaos and the busyness, carve out some time to reflect on what you are grateful for this year. Then write down your list. The act of committing your thoughts to paper crystalizes and deepens our felt experience of gratitude. There are no rules for a gratitude list. No minimum number of how many things or what should be on your list. It’s whatever is meaningful to you, from clean water and a warm, comfortable bed to engaging work and loving relationships.

Research by McCulloch et al (2001) found that gratitude plays three important functions that are morally relevant in our lives.

  1. A moral barometer (a response to the perception that we have been the beneficiary of someone else’s kindness or goodness).
  2. A moral motivator (it motivates us to act kindly and helpfully towards others).
  3. A moral reinforcer (when we express gratitude, it encourages us to want to keep doing good in the future).  

All the more reason to do your gratitude list.

2.Telling people you are grateful for them. There is a multiplier effect when you share your gratitude with others. Think about the people in your life for whom you are most thankful or whose acts of kindness, thoughtfulness or service during the year have been particularly significant to you….then tell them. Be specific about why you are grateful for them and their impact on you.


“I didn’t want to let this year go by without telling you how grateful I am for our working relationship, in particular for your candor, honesty and transparency.  It’s so hard to find people who will tell you the straight-up truth, even when the messages are hard to hear. I so appreciate you for that. I am a more rounded, more informed, more aware leader for knowing you.”

“This year, I so appreciated your wisdom and insight when you shared your feedback on my Partnerships project. It came at a time when I was stuck on the project. Your help and expertise enabled me to move forward. For that, I am so grateful.”

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it

William Arthur Ward

3.Being grateful for yourself. Many leaders I work with are the most critical on themselves. As you are thinking about what you are grateful for, take some extra time to acknowledge yourself. What are you most grateful for about yourself? In her work on self-compassion, Dr. Kristen Neff talks about the importance of self-appreciation. The gift of treating yourself with kindness and recognizing, with humility, what’s good about yourself.

We’d love to know the impact that doing these exercises had on you. Tell us about your experience at

That just leaves us to wish you a happy holiday and a happy new year filled with gratitude.