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By Reid Oetjen, PhD posted 12-13-2023 09:00

  
Embracing Gratitude in a Tech-Driven World
 
Introduction
In my last column, I spoke about artificial intelligence (AI) and how the field of health administration education could use AI to tackle the challenge of delivering quality.  Given our fast-paced lives and the increasing demands on our time, it is clear that our future and the future of delivering quality in all facets of our jobs will be enhanced through AI.  
 
As I dive deeper into using AI in my daily life, from using Amazon’s Alexa to ChatGPT, I do not always realize how I interact and ask questions.  One day, our son, Luke, asked me, “Dad, why do you always say please or thank you to Alexa after asking a question?”  I immediately responded with a Dad joke and told them that when AI takes over the world, it will remember that I was polite and appreciative and AI will be kinder to me. Hopefully, gratitude is more powerful than AI.
 
In all seriousness, my parents instilled in me the values of gratitude and the value of saying thank you.  I was taught that when someone takes the time to help you, whether it is holding a door or taking your order at a restaurant, you say please and thank you.  Moreover, you mean it!  The question from my son gave me pause to think deeper about basic manners and especially gratitude.  In addition, given the holiday season that we find ourselves in, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, and New Year's, I am reminded about all of the blessings we should be thankful for.  By the way, thank you Mom and Dad for teaching me manners.
 
Transformative Power of Gratitude
As I was writing this column, I came across a podcast from NPR focused on gratitude entitled, “Giving thanks is good for you. Here's how to make it a habit” by Andee Tagle and Malak Garib (2022).  In their research, Tagle and Garib learn that gratitude has the power to transform relationships and also release endorphins in the recipients of gratitude.  In fact, gratitude can “actually improve your mental and physical health, it’s associated with greater happiness, dopamine, serotonin, decreases stress hormones, fosters strong relationships and helps you better deal with adversity.”  
 
Gratitude is powerful and perhaps more transformational than AI.  Gratitude has the power to transform relationships and also release endorphins in both the recipient and the giver of gratitude. That’s why you should consider making gratitude a habit in addition to the fact that your Mom would be disappointed if you didn’t!
 
Making Gratitude a Habit
The NPR podcast is worth a listen and it suggests that we can all benefit from gratitude by making it a habit.  Like all habits and skills that we have learned, they suggest we start small and build consciously to make gratitude a habit.  You’ve likely heard the saying “it’s like riding a bike.” Most of us learned how to ride bikes when we were young and you have probably forgotten how many times we tried and failed before we perfected the skill. Regardless of when the last time you rode your bike was, you are likely to be able to ride a bike today due to that muscle memory stored in your brain.  Learning to be grateful and showing gratitude is a similar skill to learning to ride a bike.  Thus, by practicing gratitude, we can rewire our brains so that the “gratitude circuit” not only gets faster but also stronger. 
 
Here are several tips that can strengthen the “gratitude circuit” in your brain even for those who are already experts!  Remember, like other skills that we are learning, it is best to start small and consciously build gratitude into our DNA over time.
 
One method of practicing gratitude is to dedicate 15-20 minutes per day to focus on the positive aspects of our lives to cultivate a sense of appreciation.  Keeping a journal and listing the events that you experienced in the day where you were thankful and how you expressed gratitude will allow you to take stock and reflect on how effective you were (Koehler, 2023).  This will allow you to improve your ability to express gratitude over time.
 
Another method for practicing gratitude is writing letters to the people who have impacted your life positively.  The simple act of writing a letter can enhance mental health, even if you choose not to send the letters (Brown, 2016).  If you want to take your gratitude to the next level, hand deliver the letter to the recipient and read the letter to them.  Not only will you make this person happy, but you will in return strengthen your “gratitude circuits” in the brain.
 
Another method that I have found to be impactful is purposeful reflection.  Taking time each evening to reflect on the day’s events can help you identify things you're grateful for.  There’s an old saying that “you should never go to bed angry.” There’s a lot of truth to this, and I would add that you should never go to bed unhappy.  Practicing reflection on the day’s events can help you end a day positively and increase your appreciation for those people in your life and all the blessings that have.  This habit will help you be thankful in the moment, improve your ability to express your gratitude, and increase appreciation for life's good aspects (Koehler, 2023).
 
Practicing Gratitude
As the chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA), I have the privilege of leading an association dedicated to the advancement of health management education. This role has given me a unique perspective on our field and a profound appreciation for the dedicated and talented faculty and staff who make it all possible. 
 
The theme of this year's AUPHA Annual Meeting, "Reimagine, Reinvent, Transform resonates deeply with me as it encapsulates the essence of our mission. It's a call to action, a reminder of the continuous evolution required in the dynamic world of health management education. It invites us to embrace change with open arms and to harness the power of innovation. In the spirit of this theme, I find myself filled with gratitude for the remarkable individuals who drive our educational endeavors forward.  Thank you to the Annual Meeting Planning Committee, our staff, and Chair-Elect Cathleen Erwin for their energy and efforts in organizing what is sure to be the best meeting yet.
Conclusion
The end of the year provides us all with some downtime to reflect on the dedication of our faculty, the diligence of our AUPHA staff, and the promise of our students. It's a time to embrace the spirit of reinvention and transformation as we prepare for the Annual Meeting at AUPHA. Together, we can reimagine the future of healthcare education and continue to shape the leaders who will continue to guide our healthcare system toward a brighter tomorrow.  
 
I am thankful to AUPHA and the incredible community that makes it all possible. Thank you for enriching my life and if you made it this far in my column, thank you for reading!  In closing, I hope that you have an excellent holiday season and you take advantage of the opportunity to set aside time (and your electronic devices) each day to reflect upon the positive impact that we have on each other and to strengthen your “gratitude circuit”!
 
References
Brown, J. B. J., & Wong, J. W. J. (2016, June 6). How gratitude changes you and your brain. Greater Good. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

Cultivating a gratitude habit for improved well-being (2023, November 23). Koehler, J. (2023, November 23). Cultivating a gratitude habit for improved well-being. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/beyond-school-walls/202304/cultivating-a-gratitude-habit-for-improved-well-being

Tagle, A., & Gharib, M. (2023, November 11). Giving thanks is good for you. Here’s how to make it a habit. episode, National Public Radio. 
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12-16-2023 08:04

Leigh, Thank you for your kind words!  I am grateful for your support and mentorship, but mostly for your friendship!  I hope you have a great holiday season with family and friends!

12-14-2023 16:05

Thank you, Reid. Gratitude can be transformational, and I am grateful for the AUPHA board members and their dedication to this discipline. Happy holidays!