An Attitude Of Gratitude Is The Secret To A Happy Life

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast, Austrian-American author and Benedictine monk

Ask people what they want out of their lives or their jobs, and the vast majority will say, “I just want to be happy.” Problem is … many of them have no idea how to get it.

So some of them work hard, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like … thinking that will make them happy. Wrong! That’s called “keeping up with the Jones,” which is not the same thing as happiness.

Still other people think they’ll find happiness IF they get enough handouts from other people. After all, they believe they’re entitled to whatever somebody else has. Wrong again! That’s called greed, which is a far cry from happiness.

In my keynote and seminar on “The Payoff Principle: How To Motivate Yourself To Win Every Time In Any Situation,” I reveal the secrets of happiness … secrets that have been verified through years of research.

And one of those keys is gratefulness. When gratefulness rules in a person’s heart and is evident in his/her attitudes, crazed ambition, greed, entitlement, and negativity are eliminated. In fact, when Jeff Chambers, the Area Vice President for CIGNA, took my course, he said, “It’s too easy to forget about the important things in life. Your course brought things back into perspective.”

Bottom line, the more gratefulness you exhibit, the more positive and productive … and yes, happy … you’re going to be. Here are six ways to build your senses of gratefulness.

1. Be grateful for what you have NOW.

Don’t wait for people or situations to change BEFORE you’re grateful. Do it NOW.

In his book “Final Rounds,” James Dobson talks about the last months of his father’s life. They were both avid golfers and when his father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, James took him to Scotland so they could play golf together at some of the world’s most celebrated courses. At one point the father asked James about his marriage and family. James’ answer was evasive, at best. He explained he was so busy at work that there was little time left over for his wife and kids.

The dying father replied to his son, “I wish I could slow you down. The danger of great ambition is that you work so hard … you may some day wake up and find that the things you really wanted … were the things you had all along.”

It’s all too easy to take things for granted. We take our jobs, our companies, our relationships, our country, and even our freedom for granted … until one day they’re gone. Be grateful for what you have NOW.

2. Be grateful for the BIG things other people have given you.

That’s why I get concerned when I see our children go through school and leave school without a strong understanding of history, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, how our government works, and the very concept of freedom itself. All of those things are very BIG and each of them was given to us through the hard-fought battles and the excruciating sacrifices of somebody else. But if we don’t know about those battles and sacrifices, we’re more likely to be indifferent than grateful.

Your gratitude is deepened when you remember the price others paid to give you the BIG things you now have. Take Richard Stockton, for example. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was a prominent lawyer and a wealthy landowner. Because he supported the war efforts to break away from England, he and his family were driven from their home, which was later sacked and burned. Stockton was imprisoned for several years and subjected to harsh treatment that broke his health. He died a pauper at the age of 51. Yet few Americans remember this hero who paid such a high price for the cause of liberty. His sacrifice is largely forgotten.

Take time to be grateful for the BIG things other people have given you. If you’re a company owner, take time to tell your employees how thankful you are for the quality of the products they produce and the professional way in which they serve your customers. And if you’re an employee, take time to tell your boss how thankful you are that he/she had the guts to start the company and tell your boss how thankful you are that he/she trusted you enough to give you a job in that company.

3. Be grateful for the little things.

When people and things aren’t exactly the way you’d like them to be, you’ll be tempted to gripe. Instead, I challenge you to be grateful for the little things in those situations.

Be grateful for flawed people and imperfect gifts. Be grateful when your child attempts to make the bed, even though she makes it imperfectly. Be grateful when your spouse expresses affection, even if he does it awkwardly. Be grateful that your body still moves around, even if it’s more wrinkled and lumpy.

Be grateful for the little things … because those little things often turn into bigger and better things. That’s what Adjunct Professor Frank Zakravsky told me. In his note, he wrote, “I’ve been sharing your ‘Tuesday Tips’ with all of my students in all of my classes and their work has shown vast improvements. Thank you for your total commitment to personal success.”

You can’t wait to FEEL thankful. That comes AFTER you find something for which you are grateful and AFTER you’ve expressed your thanks. That’s why the Good Book advises, “Give thanks in all circumstances,” because the Good Book knows that your happy feelings will come after your thinking, doing, and giving. Perhaps that’s why our national holiday is called “Thanksgiving” instead of “Thanksfeeling.”

4. Be grateful to those who need to hear it.

Teachers and soldiers come to mind. Our country could not exist without them, and yet they are all too often the recipient of our gripes instead of our thanks.

Feeling that frustration, one group of teachers joked around with the message they wish they could have put on the school answering machine. After all, the teachers were the proverbial folks who could do a hundred things right and not hear a darn thing about it. As the teachers reported, they were much more likely to hear parents make up excuses for a child’s uncompleted homework, for a child’s 30 days of skipped school, and for a child’s antisocial behavior than work with the child to turn things around.

If they could have done it, the teachers would have put this on their school answering machine: “Hello! You have reached the automated answering service of your school. In order to assist you in connecting to the right staff member, please listen to all the options before making a selection.

* To lie about why your child is absent, press 1.
* To make excuses for why your child did not do his homework, press 2.
* To complain about what we do, press 3. To swear at staff members, press 4.
* To ask why you didn’t get information that was already enclosed in your newsletter and several flyers mailed to you, press 5.
* If you want us to raise your child, press 6.
* If you want to reach out and touch, slap or hit someone, press 7.
* To request another teacher, for the third time this year, press 8.
* To complain about bus transportation, press 9.
* To complain about school lunches, press 0.
* If you realize this is the real world and your child must be accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior, class work, homework and that it’s not the teachers’ fault for your child’s lack of effort, hang up and have a nice day!”

As this somewhat frivolous piece came to my attention, I especially liked the footnote added by the anonymous author. He said, “If you can read this, thank a teacher! If you are reading it in English, thank a veteran!”

Everybody needs to hear the word “thanks” once in a while, but some need it more than others. Make sure you’re especially grateful to those who really need to hear it.

5. Show gratefulness in public.

When your coworkers succeed, make sure they get the credit. Toot their horn. Let others know how they were involved and what they did to contribute to a project’s success.

That means you’ve got to be on the lookout for opportunities to acknowledge great work. Write a thank-you note and copy his/her boss … or your boss, if you are the boss. Share kudos in a staff meeting. Invite employees to make presentations to executive and stakeholder groups. Help the people around you … shine … and shine in public. It’s a win-win where everyone gets to experience the joy and the power of gratefulness.

6. Show gratefulness when someone teaches you something.

I can’t tell you how many hundreds of people who have gone through my “Journey to the Extraordinary” experience express huge amounts of gratitude to me afterwards. I appreciate that.

But I’m always a little saddened when a “Journey” graduate tells me, “If I had only taken this course years ago, I would still be married … or … If I had only known your ’12 keys to success’ earlier in my career, I would be so much further ahead, personally, professionally, and financially.”

True. But don’t kill off the joy of learning something new just because you could have or should have known it a long time before. Take it for what its worth and be grateful.

Remember, you can always learn something from everyone. Just the other day I was boarding a plane while an elderly grandmother, accompanied by her son and grandson, walked in front of me. The whole time they were trying to help her walk and maneuver the jet bridge, she kept calling them idiots. And when we got on the plane, the very nice flight attendant asked the elderly woman if there was anything she could do to help her. The grandmother replied in a voice loud enough for the entire plane to hear, “Yes, because my son and grandson are idiots!”

I felt sorry for the son and grandson who were obviously embarrassed and frustrated. They were doing everything they could to help their aging relative and got nothing in return but insults. But I also felt a little grateful for the old lady … because she taught me no matter how old I get, I don’t ever want to destroy someone else’s dignity.

By contrast, I am grateful for all the “nice” old people who have taught me so many of the deeper and more important things in life. As one anonymous author wrote:

* “Old People are easy to spot at sporting events, during the playing of the National Anthem. Old People remove their caps and stand at attention and sing without embarrassment. They know the words and believe in them.
* Old People remember World War II, Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Normandy and Hitler. They remember the Atomic Age, the Korean War, The Cold War, the Jet Age and the Moon Landing. They remember the 50 plus Peace-keeping Missions from 1945 to 2005, not to mention Vietnam.
* If you bump into an Old Person on the sidewalk he will apologize. If you pass an Old Person on the street, he will nod or tip his cap to a lady. Old People trust strangers and are courtly to women.
* Old People hold the door for the next person and always, when walking, make certain the lady is on the inside for protection.
* Old People get embarrassed if someone curses in front of women and children, and they don’t like any filth or dirty language on TV or in movies.
* Old People have moral courage and personal integrity. They seldom brag unless it’s about their children or grandchildren.
* It’s the Old People who know our great country is protected, not by politicians, but by the young men and women in the military serving their country.
* This country needs people with the work ethic, sense of responsibility, pride in their country, and decent values we often see in our Old People. And we need them now more than ever.”
* If you’re like most people, you want to be happy. And there are many roads that will supposedly get you there. Some work and some don’t. But one sure road to greater happiness is gratefulness.

Action:  Be grateful NOW. Write down 50 things you are grateful for NOW. And then add 5 more things every day for the next 30 days. You will see a marked increase in your>