BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum's favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.
That should be no surprise to anyone familiar with his approach to leadership. The former software executive said his administration has sought "to institutionalize the displays of gratitude" across state government, particularly in interactions with other officials and in recognizing state employees.
In a scene at the Bismarck Event Center earlier this month that summed it up well, he and first lady Kathryn Burgum appeared below the word "Gratitude" in all capital letters on a giant screen as they opened Recovery Reinvented, a daylong conference of speakers and awards championing recovery from addiction.
"The place that we're coming from is a place of gratitude," Gov. Burgum said that day.
'Chief gratitude officer'
Burgum, 63, traces the importance of gratitude throughout his life, from growing up in Arthur to leading employees at Great Plains Software and at Microsoft.
He has kept a gratitude journal on and off over the years. When his children were little, he would ask them at bedtime to share three things for which they were grateful, as a daily reflection.
"It got handed to me when I was young and (I) am trying to pass it on," Burgum said.
Expressing gratitude drives success and satisfaction among people, according to the governor. A grateful approach makes one more adept at handling adversity and improves an organization's performance, he said.
"If management and leadership is appropriately and accurately thanking people for the work that they do, then ... their satisfaction goes up because leadership is acting as the chief gratitude officer, which is part of how I see the role that I’m in," said Burgum, who is running for reelection in 2020.
The opposing Democratic-NPL Party doesn't see gratitude as a political issue but as something that should be important to everyone.
"I think I overall appreciate and most people appreciate that the governor takes time to express gratitude," Democratic-NPL Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said. "I think that’s an important trait amongst all people, but it's particularly nice to see amongst elected officials."
Numerous collegiate studies have found that expressing gratitude can increase a person's happiness and can improve psychological and social well-being, potentially even physical health.
A 2018 research paper on "The Science of Gratitude" from the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley, posits the following:
"The experience of gratitude encourages us to appreciate what is good in our lives and compels us to pay this goodness forward. People with more grateful dispositions report being happier and more satisfied with their lives. Gratitude also functions as social glue that nurtures the formation of new friendships, enriches our existing relationships, and underlies the very foundation of human society."
'There is good all around us'
At its core, gratitude is "just recognizing what goes well," according to Calie Brown, an outpatient and employee assistance counselor with The Village Family Service Center in Bismarck.
"Kind of stopping and smelling the roses and appreciating what's around you is essentially what gratitude is or at least what I try to incorporate with my clients," she said.
She has recommended gratitude journals as homework for clients between sessions — basically "brief snippets before you go to bed at night" that reflect on positive events of the day, even as simple as a morning cup of coffee.
"There is good all around us," Brown said.
Gratitude journals can help people who struggle during the often long and cold winter season or who are reminded during the holiday season of their shortcomings.
"This is a thing that I, not only this time of year, but throughout the year that I try to drive home," Brown said.
The Rev. Wayne Sattler, of the Catholic Church of St. Anne in Bismarck, also said gratitude is more than a one-time event; it's a way of life. Catholics offer the Eucharist — derived from Greek for giving thanks — as a sacrament of Holy Communion.
"Sometimes we fall into the sin of presumption, which is just presuming God's goodness and the goodness of others, too," Sattler said. "Gratitude or thanksgiving is to make sure that we don't take it for granted and that we express thanksgiving or gratitude."
'The sun is still shining'
Former Gov. Ed Schafer said Burgum's approach to the governor's office is a welcome contrast in politics. North Dakota is a small state where personal relationships are important.
"In North Dakota, you go to somebody's family reunion. You stop in at the company's annual meeting," Schafer said. "You develop this personal relationship with people, and that's what community is all about, and to recognize and be thankful or grateful for the opportunity to build a community is just — it's hard to explain."
This year, Burgum said, he's reminded of North Dakota farmers and ranchers who have suffered from record wet weather, and families who have lost loved ones to addiction. Gratitude is "a powerful force in and of itself," he said.
"Sometimes in those darkest moments is when you need gratitude the most, because the sun is still shining," Burgum said. "It's behind the clouds, but again, having the gratitude for the lives and the opportunities that we have are something that we've got to try to remember, because that gives us the resilience we need to get through these tremendous times of adversity."