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On Gratitude and Thankfulness

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, messages about the importance of being thankful and expressing gratitude to others are everywhere.  For a majority of Americans, this is one of those rare times of the year when we collectively sit down with others — rivaled only perhaps by the Super Bowl half time show. In November, the ritual of many is collectively saying thanks with friends and family, surrounded by turkey, stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

But Thanksgiving Thursday can also be challenging as others expect good cheer.  If you’re in an active job search and not hearing back from employers as frequently as you hoped, this can be a particularly trying time as well-meaning friends and family ask around the dinner table, “So how’s the job search going?” Combine this with traffic jams and a long dark night (the sun will set for us at 4:17 pm) — and you may find yourself feeling less cheerful and exhibiting less gratitude than is expected of you even if you are surrounded by supportive friends and family.

If you find yourself in this situation and feeling blue, then this post is for you. We’re not going to tell you:

  • that the job search should feel good — in fact, the psychological challenge of the job search may be as difficult as the process of applying for jobs itself.
  • that you’ll automatically feel better if you write down three things that you are grateful to have in your life everyday (Ever tried to sleep by thinking you must sleep now?)
  • that there’s a one-size-fits-all secret to making yourself feel better

That said, researchers consistently say gratitude is good for you — just as getting an extra bit of light every day is good for you. Gratitude can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, help you sleep better and increase your energy levels. It can help you feel more alert and alive — all good things that help you make a strong impression in interacting with all of it. And here are three free or low cost ways to attain that sense of gratitude for yourself:

  1. Educate your friends and family on how to talk to you about your job search. Here are some suggestions from Penelope Trunk; amend and recommend the strategies that make you feel comfortable and appreciated. If they volunteer to help, give them concrete strategies and areas where you can put their extra attention and effort to use.
  2. Identify and consider using the skills that you enjoy using the most. Studies show that many of the skills we’re best at align well with our interests. If you haven’t done so already, take a short assessment to identify your strengths. You can find a free one through The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center or for under $15, you can get a book and a survey on strengths from the book StrengthsFinder 2.0.
  3. Write down five things you are grateful for every week — even if it hasn’t been a great one. Research shows your health and quality of life may improve with a gratitude journal and that writing once or twice weekly is more effective than everyday.

These are our suggested strategies for beating the Thanksgiving blues — what are yours?


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