Thanksgiving week. A week to pause, reflect and be grateful.
To start, let’s define gratitude. What is it?
Simply put, gratitude is the state of being grateful. To be grateful means to have the mindset of being appreciative of benefits received. When you gain something, anything, you simply stop and feel grateful followed by the outward expression of gratitude.
While gratitude has only recently become a part of serious academic dialogue, it is not a new concept. All the way back to 44BC Cicero wrote these words in his treatise De Officiis: “In truth, O judges, while I wish to be adorned with every virtue, yet there is nothing which I can esteem more highly than being and appearing grateful. For this one virtue is not only the greatest virtue, but is also the parent of all the other virtues.”
Recently two professors from Indiana University wrote in their article How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain:
Recent evidence suggests that a promising approach is to complement psychological counseling with additional activities that are not too taxing for clients but yield high results. In our own research, we have zeroed in on one such activity: the practice of gratitude. Indeed, many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.
Even more, wherever you turn your head today, you are hearing more and more about this concept of gratitude. It is today’s buzzword.
Let’s hope “gratitude” remains a buzzword for many years to come.
I have seen the power of gratitude in my own life and in the lives of many who surround me. The mere act of gratitude is an instant and long-term game changer. While the research suggests the act of expressing gratitude can help people with mental illness, the long-term results are not always immediate. And yet, the results can be immediate, if not sustained.
Let me explain.
This is the “magic” of gratitude. It is not immediate… and yet it is. It is a mindset… and it is also an action. It can change your mood… and transform your life. Gratitude is truly the parent – the foundation – for all other virtues.”
Can I share something personally with you?
Gratitude is a relatively new concept for me.
I grew up in a highly negative and religious environment. My family environment leaned towards constant fear and pessimism. My religious school environment was highly negative and small-minded. My church environment was legalistic and viewed the “world out there” in a very suspicious light. These were my three worlds – family, school and church. All with bents towards negativity, codependency and toxicity. Of course, nothing is all bad or all good and those within my sphere of influence were doing the very best they could with the tools they had. They just did not have great tools. Even more, they were not given very good tools.
I never remember hearing about gratitude in my foundational years. We simply lived in survival mode. Hunkered down, watching out for the evils of the world and waiting for the end to come when only the good evangelicals would ascend to our McMansions in the sky.
What a depressing way to live.
All of that to say, I grew up very negative.
And this negativity remained with me for many years to come. I lived in a constant state of suspicion. I could point to the negative in everything and everyone around me. As a matter of fact, I prided myself on my pessimism.
Within a week’s span in the month of November that year, I watched The Secret on Netflix and heard a pastor friend of mine give a talk on gratitude. It was the week of Thanksgiving, a week that would change the direction of my own life forever.
Both messages were clear: You will never gain more of what you want until you are grateful for what you already have.
Sure, in recent years, I had heard this kind of thing, but I chalked it up to self-help mumbo-jumbo. It was like the actions of meditating and journaling. Every successful person I knew talked about the importance of both, but, because I could not see how sitting still – writing, breathing or merely expressing thanks – could bring any measure of success in my life, I just ignored these simple suggestions.
And my life remained stuck.
Fast forward 3 years… Daily expressions of gratitude, meditation and journaling are all aspects of my daily routine. On days when I miss doing any of the three out of sheer busyness, I can feel the deficit right away. I lack focus. I become negative. I see the worst in everything and everyone. I become small-minded. My work becomes sloppy. Days become a whirlwind of mindless action and conversation.
I digress again…
I simply want to share the importance of gratitude and how this simple act has transformed every aspect of my life. Most importantly, I want to showcase how gratitude can transform your life, your leadership and your culture.
Cicero talks about the importance of being and appearing grateful.
It is not enough to simply be grateful; you must express and show gratitude.
It is certainly not enough to simply appear grateful on the outside; you must experience gratitude on the inside. It is important to understand this: Gratitude is both a mindset and an action. You must feel grateful in concert with showing gratitude.
I can hear you asking the question: “In my already busy life, why should I give any amount of time to one more thing?”
Here’s why… Let me list for you the power of gratitude to transform your life, leadership and culture.
Gratitude Transforms Your Life
Science has already proven the effects of gratitude on your overall happiness. If you are already positive and happy in nature, you will simply experience greater positivity and happiness. For the majority of people who are bent towards negativity, you will notice greater positivity and sustained happiness over time.
How do you know you are bent towards negativity? Five quick questions:
- Do you find yourself gossiping at least 2-3 times a day?
- When you meet someone for the first time, do you immediately see their negative traits?
- Do you find yourself overly criticizing yourself and your actions throughout the day?
- Do you find yourself overly criticizing others and their actions?
- Would the people who live and work with you on a daily basis say you are more negative than you are positive?
If you answered “Yes” to more than 2 of these questions, you have a bent towards negativity. And that’s okay. Humans are wired for survival, which means being hyper-aware of those things around us that can hurt us.
You just cannot stay there.
If you are bent towards negativity, try gratitude for 21 days and see what happens. Just 21 days. Every day, take 5 minutes at some point in your day and start saying “Thank You” for everything good in your life. Everything.
Just try it. If it does not work, you can go back to your negativity after 21 days.
My guess is what you will begin to see the results almost immediately and gratitude will be your new drug. (Beware: Gratitude is a gateway drug for many other drugs such as healthy eating, greater focus, improved performance, etc. If you want to stay mediocre, leave gratitude alone.)
Just try it and tell me what changes take place in your life.
Gratitude Transforms Your Leadership
Leadership is about empowering other people. Yet, at times “other people” can be annoying as hell. You know it and I know it. However, when you are a grateful person, you begin to express gratitude – appreciation – for the people around you. (Remember, true gratitude is found within and without.) Therefore, you begin expressing gratitude for the people you lead personally and publicly. That one person who really annoys you? Say “Thank You” for them followed by saying “Thank You” to them. Watch what happens. You will become less and less annoyed with them over time.
Here’s the deal, one of the powerful secrets of gratitude is that the very mindset and act forces you to accept what is. Far too often we want to change people or circumstances instead of seeing the person or circumstance for what it is and growing from it. In essence gratitude is looking to God or the Universe or the Sun – or whomever you choose to express thanks to – and surrender. You are saying, “I trust you. I may not understand, but I trust you.” This moment of surrender helps us to realize that every circumstance and every person has been placed in our lives for a reason. The ultimate reason is to help you become the highest version of yourself.
Which leads to your leadership.
Leadership is about taking responsibility for your life and your decisions. Great leaders understand they have the power to create the world around them, for their benefit and for the benefit of others. However, the creation of a better world requires first accepting the world as it is.
Going back to the aforementioned saying: “You will never get more of what you want in life until you are grateful for what you already have.” Gratitude helps us to accept the present moment, circumstances, people and resources. Gratitude grounds us in the now. From “the now” we are able to accept responsibility and lead forward.
Great leadership begins with gratitude.
Gratitude Transforms Your Culture
A grateful mindset leads to grateful actions. Grateful actions on behalf of many in service to many transform cultures and communities.
Imagine living in a world where everyone only looked for the positive?
Now, I realize we cannot live there yet. There still exists far too much inequity, inequality and injustice in our world. There are far too many cities and communities across this nation and the planet where citizens must live in a state of constant suspicion and fear. History tells them these mindsets are the only way in which they can survive.
Yet, a thriving culture is a culture where gratitude and a positive mindset reign supreme.
One of the current teams I have led for 6 years is filled with strong-willed creatives. They are massively talented and, at times, massively stubborn. I like it that way. However, the dark side of the creative personality is the side that only sees the negative. After all, the “negative” is where art is found. However, this same negative mindset can also lead to envy, unnecessary competition, jealousy, gossip and a toxic culture among creatives. This was the case on this team.
Until we introduced gratitude into our weekly system.
For three years now (beginning with my own “gratitude revelation” at the end of 2017), this team sets aside 15-20 minutes at the beginning of every meeting to circle up and allow everyone to mention one or two things they are grateful for. This very act of “corporate gratitude” – in addition to our culture Radical Truth and Radical Transparency – has drastically transformed the overall culture of the team. Sure, we still have our share of issues – as every team does – but this team has become extremely tight knit and there is a great deal of trust among team members. With the exception of a couple minor “rivalries,” this team has each other’s backs and wants what is best for everyone involved.
This healthy and winning culture started with gratitude. Again, grateful actions on behalf of many in service to many transform cultures and communities. It did with ours.
Gratitude has the power to transform everything.
It starts with you.
So, I want to ask you, “What are you grateful for today?”