At a staff meeting last week, the Superintendent asked each one of us to fill in the blank with our word: new year, new _____. This past November, Lance and I spent the weekend in Savannah planning for 2018 and decided our word of the year would be ‚Äúgratitude‚Äù, so it was easy to fill in the blank. Talking about resolutions can begin to feel clich√©, but I still love being able to reflect on the prior year and start fresh, turning the calendar to January, and creating new rhythms and goals. A few days after the staff meeting, another Director stopped by my office to deliver an article, The Gratitude Effect. Gratitude has always been a part of God‚Äôs plan (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Psalm 107:1, Ephesians 5:20), but I always appreciate when science catches up with Him. The article highlights how we can ‚Äútap into feelings of gratitude to change the region in the medial pre-frontal cortex, an area in the frontal lobe where the two hemispheres meet.‚Äù It is now widely accepted in academia that the mindset of ‚Äúbeing thankful‚Äù is healthy for the soul, mind, and body - as well as the workplace! Research from the Harvard Business Review¬†supports that ‚Äúa shift to practices of gratitude and mindfulness leads to a positive, nurturing and caring culture.‚Äù That‚Äôs incredible - you can change your culture and environment just by being more grateful. I haven‚Äôt always been mindful about gratitude, but a few years ago I attended the Global Leadership Summit and heard one of the speakers, Shawn Achor present The Happiness Advantage. As an author, he unpacks the psychology, rigorous research, neuroscience, and management studies behind the reprogramming of our brains to become more positive (which Paul already phrased in Romans 12:1-2). I‚Äôve also had the privilege of hearing Dr. Caroline Leaf, a Neuroscientist, discuss the ability of the brain to change physical properties through our thoughts. Additional scientific research shows that gratitude can improve sleep, protect from illness, motivate exercise, enhance romance, and boost happiness. And now it is being accepted as a way to make you a more effective and productive employee! The list goes on and on. In my previous life, I was a researcher of brain chemistry and knew about how powerful regenerating the brain is, but I had not connected the thankfulness to the science. This fascinated me and led me to do my own research, launching the Happiness 180 campaign in 2016 for our food service program. There are 180 days in the school calendar, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to introduce 180 days of positivity and thanksgiving for a 180-degree shift in our minds and culture. One of my favorite (and most challenging) verses is Philippians 4:6-7:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.It is so easy to spend all of our time focused on the things that are going wrong, all of the things that need to be fixed, and to be steadily analyzing how to make improvements (especially for a perfectionist and realist like me. Yes, I said realist and not pessimist- big difference!) But it is SO important for us to be intentional, to look for the positive, and to point out the good. So, I tested all of this science on myself with the Happiness 180 campaign last year and committed to sharing something new I was thankful for with my entire staff - every day of the school year. I actually had some of my very best friends refer to me as an optimist on several occasions, which was a BIG win for me! And, all of the schools who actively participated in the challenge experienced significant improvements, an overall happier workplace, AND a more positive culture. I can honestly say the kitchens that are happiest are also the most efficient and productive because amazingly, by focusing on the good, they actually are a better team. Lance and I decided ‚Äúgratitude‚Äù was our word for 2018 and we were going to take the time every day to verbalize what we were thankful for, jotting it down in a journal we can look back on throughout the year. Too many days fly by without reflection of what was good and how God worked. We are determined to not let them go by un-noticed with the excuse of being too tired and too stressed. We both have way too much going on in our brains (in two totally different arenas) so it is hard to catch up. This way, we make sure we can at least share the highlights and create a healthier rhythm of thankfulness for Addi Grace. The Gratitude Effect: a prescription for many ailments. Test it yourself.