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Research Paper Assessment Name: Date: Student ID: Email: Rhonda Van Buskirk 10/14/2012 N/A rhondavb@gmail.


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Gratitude in Coaching: An Invitation for a Deeper Exploration

Summary This paper will explore the subject of gratitude as it comes up in coaching and how it can sometimes be a signal for the coach to have a more in-depth conversation with the client to determine what is really happening in the client’s life. It is possible that assisting the client in this area may not be as simple as introducing a gratitude practice or using gratitude exercises as a coaching tool. There may be some other underlying factors present for the client that would benefit greatly from a deeper exploration.

Introduction Gratitude is often a part of the coaching process. Coaches can use gratitude as a tool to help support their clients to “not only have a better life, but love the life they have.”1 There are many articles, books, and blog posts that discuss the importance of gratitude, and the difference a regular gratitude practice can make on a person’s life. However, when the subject of gratitude comes up within a coaching conversation, it can be a signpost for the coach to take it a step further and dive in a little bit deeper with the client in order to gain some greater insights. The client’s present situation may not always be a cut-and-dried scenario. There may be something else going on for the client that might benefit from deeper exploration,

and would also mean that the coach might want to take an entirely different approach in the coaching process.

Definition of Gratitude The word gratitude is a noun that is defined as: “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”2 It is derived from the Latin root gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. However, gratitude is not always used as a noun, it is often used to describe a state of being. “It has been conceptualized as an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, or a coping response.” 3

Gratitude and Coaching There are many tools and exercises out there for coaches to help a client work with gratitude, such as gratitude lists, and keeping a gratitude journal.4 These exercises can be very powerful for the client, and studies5 have proven that they can be very beneficial. According to the findings of the The Gratitude Questionnaire (GQ-6), “grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depressions and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.” 6

However, in a coaching environment around the subject of gratitude, there can also an opportunity for the coach to really tune in and listen to the client, ask questions, and further assess the situation to help determine the client’s current state of being. Starting (or continuing) a gratitude practice may be beneficial for the client, but there may be some other factors that need to be considered and scenarios that the coach can look for, and if it is appropriate, take the opportunity to explore a bit more. For example:

• Does the client currently have a gratitude practice? Is the client currently able to recognize and identify who and/or what they have in their lives that they are truly thankful for? Do they reflect on this in some way on a regular basis, or only under certain conditions? • Is there “too much” gratitude? Is it possible that the client’s gratitude is keeping them in situations where they have expressed a desire for change? Is the gratitude for what the client currently has in their life keeping them from “playing bigger” in life? Does the client believe that they do not need or deserve anything more? • Perhaps the client is using the word “should”…as in “I should be grateful?” Using the word “should” implies that the client might not genuinely feel grateful, but believe that they need to be grateful for their current situation. Why?

• How does the client feel about the use of the word gratitude? Does the concept of creating a gratitude list or working with other gratitude exercises excite them? Is it possible that the client may benefit from a semantics shift, such as using the word “appreciation” in place of gratitude?

Any of these scenarios are something that can be explored and discussed in further detail with the client to help create a deeper awareness and give the coach an opportunity to assist them further with their particular needs or goals.

Gratitude Recognition Perhaps the client is not able to see their situation through the eyes of gratitude. Is the client so unhappy with their current situation that they are not able to see what aspects of their life are positive? The coach can ask further questions to create awareness for the client and to help turn the client’s attention to listing or talking about what positive things or people they do have in their life. This is also where regular gratitude exercises can be very powerful and beneficial, such as creating gratitude lists, or keeping a gratitude journal. Ask the client if they would be willing to take a few minutes out of each day to write down a few things that they are thankful for. If the client is willing to try to make this into a habit, it is possible for them to see some significant shifts.

“Too much” Gratitude

The client might be very aware and grateful for what they have in their life, but is the client using that gratitude as an excuse to keep them in a situation that may not be serving them? For example, maybe the client is genuinely grateful for their job, but it is also a job that they have previously expressed that they are unhappy with. The client definitely would like to change jobs, but is the client taking any action steps towards looking for a new job? What are the client’s underlying beliefs? Is it possible that the client does not feel that that they deserve a better job? Does the client believe that a job that they enjoy more is possible for them? If not, why not?

Powerful questions here can be very enlightening. Gratitude can be a very positive thing, but if the client’s expression or use of gratitude is keeping the client from moving forward on something that the client has expressed a desire for, is the client’s gratitude a way of “playing it safe”? There can be more for the coach to explore to find out the underlying beliefs of the client and help create some awareness for the client around the particular situation that is keeping them from moving forward.

Gratitude and the Word “Should” The client might express how they “should” be grateful for a certain situation, but upon listening to the client it is clear from the words or tone (or both) that this is not a genuine expression of gratitude, but there is something else going on for the client instead. This is another pattern where asking questions and diving deeper

into the situation can shed a deeper light on what is really going on. What feelings are coming up for the client? Why does the client feel as if they should be grateful? Where are these feelings of “should” coming from? Who is the “voice in the client’s head” when they state that they “should be grateful”? Is it parents? Friends? A boss? Society? The client’s own expectations? When the client is feeling as if they “should” be grateful, are there other feelings that they are suppressing?

It is possible the client feels guilty about the feelings that they are having because the situation could be worse, or that there are other people in the world that have it worse. “I should be grateful for what I have, because there are people starving in Africa.” Statements such as these may indicate that the client feels that they do not deserve to have their needs met or they do not have the “right” to feel the way that they do, so they suppress these feelings under the guise of gratitude. Creating a safe space for the client can be very important here, so that the client feels as if they can “let their hair down” and speak openly about what is really going on and how they are truly feeling without fear of judgment. When the client feels and knows that they are completely safe and in a place of non-judgment, this can be opportunity for the coach to address these underlying feelings, bring them out into the open and work with the client on whatever is present for the client.

Semantics: Gratitude vs. Appreciation

What are the client’s feelings when the subject of gratitude comes up? Does the word have meaning to the client? If there is some resistance to the word or the concept of gratitude, the coach can try to use a different word to discuss the concept. For some clients, there might be a difference between being grateful for something, and appreciating it.

In Money and the Law of Attraction, Esther and Jerry Hicks describe a possible reason for this difference between gratitude and appreciation. “Many people use the words interchangeably, but we do not feel the same vibrational essence in them at all, because when you feel gratitude, often you are looking at a struggle that you have overcome. In other words, you are happy that you are still not in the struggle, but there is still some of that ‘struggle’ vibration present. Appreciation is that tunedin, tapped-in, turned-on feeling. Appreciation is vibrational alignment with ‘who I have become.’ The state of appreciation is “me being in sync with the whole of that which I am.” 7

The above concept is something that the client may have a greater affinity for instead of using the word gratitude. The coach can try asking the client what they are grateful for in their life, and then ask the client what they appreciate in their life. This simple language shift may help shift the energy for the client and create an entirely different result. Notice the difference. Is there a longer list of things that they

appreciate? Does the client seem to be more engaged and excited by appreciating what is present in their life?

For coaches, there is probably no question regarding the benefits of gratitude and a regular gratitude practice. Gratitude is a subject that is already well documented. Gratitude journals, letters, lists, and exercises are just an example of some things that are likely already part of a coach’s toolkit. However, it can be extremely helpful, and very enlightening for both the coach and the client, to create some awareness around the subject of gratitude. Is it just a matter of creating awareness around gratitude and starting a gratitude practice? Or is there something more? What other factors might be present for the client? If the coach and the client are willing to dive in a little bit deeper, it is possible to bring about some profound insights and create additional opportunities for the coach to assist the client in “having a better life and loving the life that they have.”

1 2

ICA Module: Gratitude, Learning Level 5 “gratitude”. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. 3 Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389. 4 Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness, 2002 5 Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.


UC Davis Emmons Lab: Measuring the Grateful Disposition, The Gratitude Questionnaire (GQ-6) Document, 7 Esther and Jerry Hicks, Money, and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Wealth, Health, and Happiness, 2008