Here we are, smack in the middle of gratitude season, and it seems fitting that I write a post about gratitude. The issue is, I just had a horrible day. Frankly, it has been a stressful few months. So I thought I would forgo the “I am super grateful” post and give you some idea of how my gratitude practice has survived the onslaught of personal and business stress. If you are in your Christmas sweater, humming carols and feeling overwhelming joy at the prospects of 5 weeks of holiday, maybe skip this one. But if you’re secretly dreading having to put on your “happy face” at the next 10 parties, step into my office.
I will not bore you with my story; however, starting a business, raising kids in a split home and managing relationships is both rewarding and perfect, but also very hard. Some days I have to dig pretty deep to find my gratitude. But, it matters, maybe more than any business plan or keystone discipline.
Why Gratitude Matters
“Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression.” Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis. Seemingly every psychology department is involved in a gratitude study. In case you like to read for yourself, I linked a few articles at the bottom.
The key takeaway of both reading and practice is that gratitude is the antidote for most of what ales you. It isn’t a magic elixir, but rather a soft reset button. It grounds you in the moment. Gratitude is a tool for meditation, affirmation, and motivation.
The trick is to go beyond platitude and integrate your gratitude fully into your day. Do not simply say it, be it. Even for just a second. That is where habit becomes magic. While there is a list 10 miles long of ways to integrate gratitude into every day, here is three things that work for me:
1) Say it out loud.
Years ago, I started having the kids say a few things they were grateful for at the dinner table. I ask my guests to do it, and we even do it at restaurants and get the servers involved; it’s just a “thing” we do. A while back it shifted from being a spontaneous moment to a boring act of habit. I started hearing things like, “I am grateful for this awesome dinner” or “I am grateful for my family”. One evening I had an enlightened guest for dinner. He looked right at my nine year old and said, “Awesome, what about this dinner are you grateful for?” She stared at him and then went on and on about how much she loves red bell peppers and because of there various uses and ways they can be served. It was an amazing transformation of the practice.
So, be grateful each day, out loud, and understand the why.
2) Be specific instead of courteous.
Most of us say please and thank you. Often we do it without thinking, it is a “healthy” habit. My buddy from New York claims it is a CA and TX problem, but I consider it common courtesy. Like the dinner gratitudes, it doesn’t mean much in its normal form.
The fix? Get specific. This forces you to really consider what you are saying. Are you grateful for the report that was handed to you or are you grateful that your team takes it seriously enough to deliver it on time every week? Are you grateful that someone opened the door for you again or are you actually grateful that someone taught them common courtesy to always jump up and get the door?
Next time you say thank you, take the time to clearly state what you are thankful for.
3) See rather than look.
Eye contact changes everything. Years ago I was at a seminar and we stared into a strangers eyes for 10 minutes without talking. Needless to say, the importance of meaningful connection through eye contact is burned in my soul. We make eye contact when we raise a glass, when we are angry, but we don’t do it enough when we express gratitude.
I find myself mumbling “thank you” all day long with little purpose and almost no genuine connection. Don’t be like me. When you do practice direct eye contact, you will be amazed at how people change.
Simply looking directly at the person you are thanking increases the power for the giver and the receiver.
Pulling it together
Last night, I had a few glasses of wine at our local establishment. My bar-mate picked up the tab. As I was pushing my stool away from the bar, I offhandedly said, “Thanks for the wine.” It was reflexive, and sufficient. We don’t need to make a thing of it right? But, in that moment, I was feeling more than reflex. I was overcome with gratitude. The normal bro speak just didn’t cut it.
So, we walked out the front door, I took his hand, put my other hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye and said, “Thank you for taking the time to come out and grabbing the bill. That wine hit the spot. Today I am grateful for our friendship.” It was a game changer for me. I found something to be grateful for, I was specific and looked him right in the eye. It was gratitude torn from reflex and made meaningful. I felt better, he felt better.
Happy Holidays. For You I Am Grateful.