The Power of Gratitude

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, gratitude can be a powerful thing.

Applause is often an instinctive reaction. After a special performance, we are moved to tears, to stand, to clap, to cheer. Even if it’s simply a child’s first nativity. On that occasion it’s not even the quality of the performance, it’s the effort that went into it. And how much it means to the parent or child.

In the workplace, we’ve often taken the applause away. It can feel awkward, unnecessary and uncomfortable. Instead, we’ve substituted it for bonuses and benefits. However, gratitude has the ability to empower individuals, strengthen teams, and reinforce a culture of high-performance.


Do you remember the first time you enjoyed an opera or classical performance? Indiscriminate applause is a much frowned on breach of classical music etiquette. Therefore you may have felt a little nervous about when to sit, stand or applaud.

One of the most popular debates about orchestra concerts is when to clap. There are two types of clapping experts; one that assures you that clapping between movements is ok and that there are really no rules and the expert that says only to clap when the piece is completely finished.”

During the 19th century professional applauders – known as claqueurs – were used in French theatres and opera houses. So much so that Mahler clamped down on claques paid to applaud a particular performer, and specified in the score of his Kindertotenlieder that its movements should not be punctuated by applause.

Sacred works offered as worship are not applauded. Such works include settings of requiem, Passion, mass, or Kaddish prayer. Presented in an artistic context, such works, along with secular works of comparable gravity, still often receive a respectful silence before any applause.

In opera, however, a particularly impressive aria will often be applauded, even if the music is continuing. Shouting is generally acceptable only during applause. The word shouted is often the Italian ‘bravo’ or ‘bravissimo’ for a truly exceptional performance. The word’s original meaning is “skillful” and it has come to mean, “well done”.

In fact, within an orchestra, there is a ‘secret applause’ amongst the musicians themselves. Whether it’s a shuffling of feet to signal praise or a slight rubbing of the music with the edge of the bow in recognition of a nearby string player who has a solo. The impact on the musician receiving this is powerful. To be recognised by an esteemed peer in an orchestral setting is more powerful perhaps than being recognised by the audience.

The Science of Gratitude

But if applause for a great performance is simply approval or praise, perhaps we could do with more of it in our workplaces. In fact, scientific studies show us just how powerful gratitude can be. There’s evidence that it could affect everything from our health to our happiness, and that has benefits for all of us, especially for high-performers:

“…feelings of gratitude directly activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine feels good to get, which is why it’s generally considered the “reward” neurotransmitter. But dopamine is also almost as important in initiating action. That means increases in dopamine make you more likely to do the thing you just did. It’s the brain saying, “Oh, do that again.”

So, if gratitude can have such a positive effect on us, where do we start?

Three Ways To Practice Gratitude

Here are three ways to be thankful that will energise and encourage you, and your team:

1/ Applaud those around you

Gratitude for others doesn’t have to be a grand statement. It may be true that your team should know that their work is appreciated because of how much they get paid. However, it is counter-productive and de-motivating to take people for granted. Whereas words or acts of appreciation cost much less and can often achieve so much more.

Applause can be as formal as a staff recognition programme or as informal as a note to a team member for a significant contribution to a project. Appreciating someone else’s strengths or insight goes a long way. Ensuring that others are being seen and heard for the hard work they’ve put in fuels their enthusiasm and engagement for the next challenge.

2/ Celebrate a good performance

It’s too easy to overlook the victories – a client won, a project completed, or a deal finalised. However, when you move on too quickly to the next challenge, the energy spent getting there can be wasted. Especially where teamwork is involved. Leading diverse teams is a balancing act in itself. Leading that team to a successful achievement is worthy of applause. Especially if it sets the stage for what’s next.

Celebrating our accomplishments marks a particular moment before the de-brief begins. It reminds everyone what they worked so hard for, and creates a culture of success that will spur everyone on next time things aren’t so easy.

3/ Take a moment for silent reflection

Each of us battles with the drive to deliver day after day after day. It sounds like a cliche to suggest we should ‘stop and smell the roses’ once in a while. However routinely making time to hit pause and practice gratitude will enable you to enjoy what you have worked so hard for.

Practising gratitude can also help you to establish what you really value. It’s good for your health and happiness, and can even inform your next steps, ensuring that you put your energy back into those relationships or activities that really matter to you.

A Moving Performance

We’re thankful for the opportunities to have worked with some incredible companies and organisations. We’re thankful for the privilege of being able to put our energies into work that we love. And we’re thankful for the possibilities on the horizon.

Find out more about how we can help you celebrate your achievements and turn the successes of the past into the performance of the future.