A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Gifting Gratitude

As humans, we have a fundamental need to feel like we belong. We rely on others, and they rely on us. We all need positive, human connections to feel seen and understood.

However, the world is struggling to navigate the harmful effects stemming from a lack of civility, disengagement from work, and more. We’ve landed in a space where we may not even be able to hug loved ones safely if they’re outside our ‘bubble.’ Not only are these experiences unpleasant, but they drain us of energy and can lead to burnout.

The quality of our connections matters. In communities of families, friends, and neighbors, people who enjoy positive relationships live longer, happier lives. In organizations, rewarding connections among employees, customers, vendors, and staff foster well-being, performance, and psychological safety. 

If you’re feeling lonely, disengaged, or weary try the practice below to energize your connections.

The Inspiration

You don’t need to be in a long-term relationship to enjoy positive connections each day. Jane E. Dutton, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations and professor at the University of Michigan researches the conditions that create flourishing individuals and teams in organizations. Some of her most fascinating research focuses on what she calls ‘high quality connections.’ She describes them as short, everyday interactions that light us up, fill us with positive regard and energy, and have a sense of mutuality. 

You can have high quality connections within close relationships and everyday acquaintances alike. Her work shows that even momentary experiences of feeling seen and known can not only soften the hard edges of life’s daily struggles but lead us to live better lives. 

Your character strengths can serve as key pathways to high quality connections. Of course, the humanity strengths of love,  kindness, and social intelligence are obvious pathways because they’re inherently about building and sustaining positive relationships. Beyond that, however, each strength can contribute to growing your connections.

It’s probably already clear how strengths like fairness or honesty could lead to high quality connections. But what about an internally focused strength like self-regulation? Even the strengths you might not intuitively think of can help.

Self-regulation is about being disciplined and able to regulate your attention, emotions, habits, even your appetite. Self-regulation helps us take charge of our emotions. The next time you feel frustrated by your nosy co-worker or fussy child, use your self-regulation to take a step back and cool off rather than react angrily in the moment. Count to ten slowly before you respond. Notice how this helps you respond with objectivity rather than anger, which expands your ability to understand and connect authentically. 

If self-regulation is an obvious choice, pick another one. How about love of learning? You can use your love of learning to dig into a special relationship and understand more about what you have or don’t have, in common. Or connect with someone with whom you have a mutual interest like cooking, hiking, or traveling, and pursue the activity together. 

Every character strength can help you connect with others. To deepen this conversation, consider joining me live on October 6 at a virtual presentation sponsored by Capital District Women’s Employment and Resource Center called “Growing Highly Rewarding Connections with Character Strengths.

The activity I chose for this week’s practice is about expressing the character strength gratitude to someone in your life. The essence of gratitude is appreciating and valuing the blessings in your life. In this practice, you will focus on a person. 

In an online article on the Greater Good Science Center website, authors Eric Pederson and Debra Lieberman say that gratitude can make romantic relationships closer, help us feel invested in friendships, and foster helpfulness at work.

The Practice

Is there someone you’ve taken for granted lately? It’s easy to do in these times. Is there someone with whom you haven’t connected in a while? This practice will help you deepen your connection with a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. The practice below is adapted from this practice.

  1. Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. Pick someone who could meet you virtually or face-to-face in the next week. Perhaps select a person you haven’t thought about for a while. For this practice, don’t choose someone with whom you have a chronically difficult relationship. 

  2. Write a letter to this person, guided by the following steps:
    • Write as though you’re addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”).
    • Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
    • Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
    • Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
    • Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (about 300 words).

  3. If possible, deliver your letter in person or virtually, following these steps:
    • Plan a visit with the recipient. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.
    • When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude; ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.
    • Take your time while reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.
    • After you have read the letter, be receptive to his or her reaction, and discuss your feelings together.
    • Remember to give, email, or mail the letter to the person afterward.

The Reflection

“My experience of sharing gratitude with the person I chose was _______________.”

What was it like? What insights about yourself or this other person did you gain? How has your connection grown or shifted? What will you remember from this experience? What do you think he or she will remember?

Feel free to journal about this reflection in an unstructured way, without regard to grammar or punctuation. Just let your reflection flow. Or share your reflection with a trusted friend or professional. 

May you “SEA” a new perspective as you practice strengths-spotting today!

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Strengths-Spotting

If you’ve been around awhile, like I have, you’ll probably remember Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 award-winning hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’s also known among younger generations. Bobby McFerrin is famous for his a cappella songs. He gave a popular TED talk at the World Science Festival in 2009 in which he turned the whole audience into his musical accompaniment using just their voices. 

The TED talk offers a clear example of someone in “the strengths zone” doing what he does best and being his most authentic. I sometimes use it in presentations to introduce strengths-spotting. Strengths-spotting is a powerful practice that helps us focus on the good and see ourselves and others through a lens of what’s strong, rather than blame or what’s wrong. 

One of the best gifts you can give throughout the day is strengths-spotting. It’s easy and intuitive to do. Find out why and how below, then practice strengths-spotting in your own work or life.

Strengths-spotting is a gift we all deserve to receive more often, especially when confronted with times of high anxiety. This practice is about naming and valuing character strengths in each other, elevating who we are and what we do best. When someone else notices and values you for these qualities, you get the added bonus of feeling seen and understood for who you are. It’s like looking through a magnifying glass, where the image on the other side suddenly becomes clear and true to its nature.

Participants consistently highlight strengths-spotting as a practice that changed their lives the most. They cited improvements in difficult relationships, boosting teamwork, and elevating confidence.

You can practice strengths-spotting each day, no matter the circumstances. You can apply this practice in a family, work, or social setting. You can also practice it with acquaintances and people you just met, like the cashier at the grocery store, or your favorite movie or book characters. You can even practice it with that person that constantly rubs you the wrong way. 

To easily learn and practice strengths-spotting, Dr. Ryan Niemiec, education director at the VIA Institute on Character, suggests using the SEA approach (spot, explain, appreciate).

  • First, pause to notice and name the strengths you see. In other words, spot them in action.  This can be within yourself or others around you – your kids who picked up their toys without being asked (kindness) or your co-worker who supported your idea even though others didn’t (bravery).
  • Next, explain the details or context in which you spotted the strengths in action. What was the person doing? Who were they with? What was happening?
  • Last, describe the impression this person’s strengths left on the situation at hand, on others, or you. Why did you appreciate the use of these strengths? How did this person’s strengths create a positive result or affect you personally?

The Inspiration

It’s always nice to have someone recognize you for a positive contribution you’ve made. For example “Jane, that blog post was really creative.” But it’s a richer experience when put into context and made personal. 

“Jane, your creative blog post on The Mindful Pause gave me an easy but powerful tool I’ve shared with clients and friends. I also use it throughout the day to reduce anxiety. It helps me face what’s next with clarity.”  It feels so good to hear about the impact I had on someone using my top strength creativity in my work!  

Most people find spotting other people’s strengths to be quite intuitive. Naming our own strengths, however, is a bit more difficult. Many of us don’t feel comfortable describing ourselves in positive ways. Others don’t have the language to describe our positive traits. For some, the discomfort is grounded in cultural norms. This requires a deeper discussion, but I’ve helped clients successfully integrate strengths practices into groups of people with cultural sensitivities. 

Another challenge arises when someone in your life constantly tests your patience – that relative who gossips about family members or the co-worker who never seems prepared for the Zoom calls. Guess what? They have character strengths, too! Can you acknowledge them for their strengths? 

Remember that strengths-spotting is a practice that can be practiced. Over time, you will become more effective and comfortable strengths-spotting yourself and others. Are you ready to practice? Follow the simple SEA approach below.

The Practice

  1. Watch this 3-minute clip of Bobby McFerrin’s 2009 TED talk
  2. Write down all the character strengths you see in Bobby, the gentlemen behind him, or the audience before him. Try to spot all 24. Below is an aid to remind you of the 24 character strengths. Practice with your family or team if you like. Up the ante, and create a reward for the person who spots the most strengths.
  3. Use the SEA approach to spot, explain, and appreciate the strengths.
  4. Next, apply the SEA approach to a personal situation in which you are interacting with your team, family, or others as you are out and about in your day.

The Reflection

As I practiced strengths-spotting, I noticed that _____________________________.

What did you notice about shifts within yourself – what you were thinking, feeling, or doing? What did you notice about others or how the situation shifted? 

Feel free to record your thoughts in a journal, allowing them to flow freely without editing or evaluating, or speak with a trusted friend or colleague to debrief your reflection.

May you “SEA” a new perspective as you practice strengths-spotting today!