At Helios, we have a somewhat-peculiar practice. Every Monday afternoon we get together for our all-hands team check-in, and we start our meeting, every single time, with a single, simple question:

“Right now, what are you grateful for (or what are you celebrating)?”

We are a virtual team, so we meet on Zoom. Someone starts with sharing, and then passes the metaphorical “talking stick” to the next person until everyone has shared. It takes maybe five minutes, and every time, without fail, by the end of those five minutes I — and I suspect, everyone else — have a refreshed mindset. I regularly feel calmer, more focused, happier. I feel a tiny bit more connected to my colleagues. And even if it’s just a little, I feel more ready to take on challenges and deal with complexity.

What exactly is going on here?

In short, we’re experiencing a few of the tremendous benefits of the practice of gratitude.

We often think of gratitude as an “effect” — meaning, something nice happens and then I feel grateful for it happening. But the research seems to indicate that gratitude is actually more of a “cause” than an “effect.”

When we understand gratitude as a practice, it’s the thing I do first — I choose to be grateful and celebrate the things I have to be thankful for. And the act of doing this puts my cognitive focus on the path of possibilities, which makes me more creative and less defensive. It makes me more open and less closed. It makes me more curious and less rigid.

This is a simple, simple practice. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy — on more than one occasion we’ve been tempted to just “jump in” to our agenda and skip this practice because we have an important “fire to put out” that day or a pressing, stressful challenge on the agenda. But doing that would be a mistake on our parts, because we wouldn’t actually be tackling that particular problem with full resources at our disposal. Without priming ourselves to be in our best possible state, we’d be cognitively and emotionally stunted, thereby doing a disservice to our customers and our overall business.

Is this practice something every team should be doing? I’m not sure, but I’d wildly advocate for running the experiment — once you get over the initial awkwardness (just expect that and try it anyway), you may just find yourself in a more constructive, powerful meeting. And who wouldn’t want that?

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Here are a few recent articles to reference if you’d like to go deeper on all the research being done on this topic:

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