3 Ways To Make Gratitude A Stronger Emotion

January 5th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

As an FBI agent, I was surrounded by people who had a strong sense of right and wrong. Research shows that emotions are strongly connected to our morality—the ability to tell right from wrong. Since strong emotions were closely connected to my fellow agents’ morals, it allowed them to move into adverse and dangerous situations to protect the well-being of others. 

Gratitude - squirrel

Gratitude and indignation are both moral emotions. Gratitude is a positive emotion that encourages reciprocal altruism, well-being, and appreciation. Indignation, on the other hand, is a negative emotion that is closely related to anger and revenge—it motivates individuals to punish cheaters.

Mental toughness strengthens our ability to distinguish positive emotions from negative ones. We can use this awareness to strengthen positive emotions like gratitude and control negative ones like anger. 

Understanding our emotions is the key if we want to control them.

Mentally tough people learn how to connect with emotions that attract more of the things that represent our moral standards. In turn, we live and do what is right.

As leaders, we can find ways to make gratitude a stronger emotion. We can use mental toughness to strengthen our gratitude emotion. When we do, we control the negative emotions that impact the way we treat not only ourselves, but those around us.  

Here are 3 ways we can make gratitude a stronger emotion:

1. Be Intentional

Intentional behavior is the ability to move ahead with a thoughtful and deliberate goal in mind. This means we can make gratitude a stronger emotion. To do so, we need to seek out and identify specific acts for which we can, and should, be grateful.

We perceive an act as more worthy of gratitude when: 

  • it cost someone (either time or effort)
  • we perceive it to be of value
  • it is not obligatory or habitual in nature
  • the result produces relief or happiness

2. Keep Focused

Most FBI agents and law enforcement officers enter their career to arrest criminals who exploit the needs and weaknesses of others. Over time, however, their idealism is threatened because life is rarely lived in absolutes.

The black and white of justice frequently morphs into shades of gray. Good is often found in the midst of the bad, and bad sometimes results from good intentions.

We become mentally tough when we learn to live with the paradox of contradiction and not run from the mystery of life.

It’s especially important to remain grateful when life takes a down turn:

  • Seek out events and people that represent the things that embody your moral standards
  • Express gratitude when you see them
  • Let go of your need for the “right” way to be “your” way
  • Clarify what you know to be the truth in your heart, get to know it better
  • Remember that truth is it’s own best argument

3. Lose the Ego

Narcissists believe their presence entitles them to special rights and privileges. They often make demands of others and they are selfish. People with large egos tend to be ungrateful. Instead, they believe they deserve the favors and gifts that others give to them. 

It’s impossible to give full attention to both ego and gratitude at the same time.

When you appreciate something or someone else, your ego must move out of the way. 

Deepak Chopra makes these points about ego and gratitude:

  • Ego can get stuck on being right or wrong
  • Real gratitude isn’t passing and temporary
  • Gratitude takes openness and the willingness to set your ego aside
  • No one is grateful for things they think they deserve.
  • Gratitude is unearned, like grace
  • When it is deeply felt, gratitude applies to everything, not simply to good things you hope come your way

We can strengthen our gratitude emotion over time. It will take mental toughness to intentionally seek out and find the people and circumstances for which we can be grateful. We also need to focus on the priority of being grateful, especially in tough times. And finally, we need to demand the ego to be put it in its proper place.

What tips do you have for making gratitude a stronger emotion?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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13 Responses to “3 Ways To Make Gratitude A Stronger Emotion”

  1. Dan Black says:

    Great thoughts, LaRae Quy! Being self-aware and being able to manage our life and emotions are essential when it comes to effective leadership. Great thoughts about being intentional.

  2. LaRae – I especially enjoy your point about the shades of grey. You write that it is important to let go of the attitude “I win” or “I lose” and instead deal with the fact that truth is individual. So part of mental toughness should be having empathy for the person standing across from us. If I am fixated on “black” and the other person is fixated on “white” then the ideal outcome is that I end up less black and the other person less white. Yes, be true to your heart but also have an understanding that the person in front of us is also true to their heart. Your writing alludes to this and so much more — it is rich with examples of gratitude and I am grateful to have you in my circle of teachers.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I’m so honored to be included in your circle of teachers!

      One of the biggest aha’s of my life has been to understand that life is full of shades of grey. Once we grasp that, the need to be “right” is not as urgent. As you say, we still have our beliefs and values, but I am able to let go my need to always be right and be grateful for what the other person has to bring to the table.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  3. Jon Mertz says:


    Great points on how to lead with gratitude. It may be simple, but my addition would be to just simply smile often and fill a room with laughter every now and then. From here, a spirit of gratitude and companionship sprouts.

    Thank you! Jon

  4. Lolly Daskal says:


    The language of gratefulness is the language of the heart.

    I feel that gratitude is an important message in leadership and in living.

    Gratefulness is not something that is on the forefront of peoples mind when it comes to leadership.

    If we can tap into our heart, we will know the essence of gratefulness!

    You are doing amazing work and your article is fantastic!


    • LaRae Quy says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Lolly.

      Gratitude is rarely made a priority in leadership, because it requires leaders to let go of ego and put others first.

      I appreciate you!

  5. Terri Klass says:

    Gratitude is truly one of the most powerful emotions leaders can share with others. When we tell others how grateful we are for all their contributions, we are essentially telling them how much we care and value them in our lives.

    I love the idea of letting go of the “right way” as “our way” as leaders need to keep an open mind and make pivotal adjustments if necessary. After all what may seem the only choice, may really not meet the team’s needs.

    Saying “I appreciate you” and “Job well done” or “I really learned so much from working with you” are all great ways to be grateful.

    Thanks LaRae for this insightful post!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Great points, Terri! We can show so much gratitude by using simple expressions such as “thanks” and “job well done.”

      When we give up “our right to ourselves” we are able to move the focus of our attention from “me” to others. It’s impossible to me-centered and grateful at the same time.

  6. Bill says:


    I love the picture of the squirrel – the little guy really enticed me to read this post.

    I do believe the ability to consistently demonstrate gratitude is a key difference separating managers from leaders. Everyone wants to be recognized for their contributions and it is the exceptional leaders who make this happen.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I love that little squirrel, too!

      With effort and practice, we can actually make our gratitude emotion stronger than our negative emotions. When we do, we can choose our responses.

  7. Karin Hurt says:

    LaRae, Beautiful and timely post. Real leaders are deeply grateful for the work of their team. Teams can tell sincere gratitude from shallow “thanks.” Real gratitude is inspiring.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      You are so right, Karin…gratitude is about leaders taking the time to tell team members they are deeply grateful. You made a great distinction between showing real gratitude and a shallow thanks. I think we’re all tired of leaders grabbing the limelight….

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