The role of gratitude in creating communities

Recently, I listened to an interesting podcast interview about gratitude. Something that really resonated with me in terms of community-building was a discussion of how gratitude creates a sense of belonging – a key element in communities. The interviewee mentioned the classic example of a Buddhist giving thanks for an item of food and realising how many different people went into bringing that item from the field to the kitchen table. In a global, interconnected world none of us can say we’re truly independent – we belong to a complex network of many other people.

But aside from making you realise that you didn’t achieve or obtain a certain thing entirely on your own and that you’re part of a wider ecosystem, I think there are two other points relevant to community-building:

  1. Gratitude as a concept for me had gotten somewhat lost in the word “sharing” which perhaps gets overused when talking about online exchanges. Yet if we unpack the action of healthy sharing within a community, it’s both the offering of a skill, piece of information etc and the giving of thanks for it. And if you’re thanked for your offering, you’re more likely to feel appreciated and you’ll probably contribute again in the future. Gratitude also signals that your behaviour was appropriate for the community – which helps to clarify belonging.
  2. The exchange between the donor and the recipient builds a specific, two-way interaction between two community members. i.e. giving thanks makes the interaction bi-directional, and therefore stronger than if it had been a uni-directional gift-giving. You feel like you belong because you have an actual reciprocated tie to another person.

How does this translate into practical actions to take? It could be that you always acknowledge contributions to your community/group – even if that’s just a thank you for leaving a comment. It could be publicly thanking by name members who have contributed content of value in the past week. Or it could be specifically “rewarding” members who contribute more than most with badges, a Q&A with them about their role, or some other way of deliberately increasing their social capital.

What role(s) does gratitude play in the communities that you belong to?