The "Gratitude Principle"

“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner

Kushner is right … so right. I learned that lesson way back in the 70’s, when my mother died very unexpectedly at a very young age. And I learned that lesson when my wife left me a few days later … not to mention my father losing his job, other close relatives dying, and my finances under assault … all within the next few weeks.

For whatever reason, I happened to be reading Kushner’s book at the same time my world was crashing. I remember sitting in my empty house, now devoid of family, and asking myself what could possibly be good about this situation. And then I realized if bad things were going to happen, sooner is better than later. I decided right then and there that I had a choice. I could become bitter or I could become better.

I decided to become better. I decided I was a survivalist and was always going to be a survivalist, not an entitle-ist.

So how does that all relate to you and your business? Simple. Just about everybody is going through some really tough times right now. The economy and our uncertain future may have shaken your foundation and your company’s foundation. The old rules just don’t seem to work or apply anymore.

The result is a dramatic rise in fear and anger across the land. In fact, as I deliver my keynotes and seminars to various associations and organizations, their leaders and employees tell me complaining is at an all time high.

But there’s a way of getting through the tough times and beyond this crippling fear and anger. Rather than fret, worry, whine, blame, and complain, you need to learn “The Gratitude Principle” I teach in my program called “Take This Job And Love It! Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life … On And Off The Job.” Just be warned: this principle might strike you as rather naive, simplistic, and Pollyannish, but it works.

My “Gratitude Principle” says, “The more thankful you are, the less negative you can be.” Here’s what you can do to make the principle work for you.

=> 1. Find the positive in every situation.

There are always one or more positives in EVERY situation … no matter how difficult, challenging, or unfair your situation might be. So look … and if you have to … really really look for the positive. It’s there somewhere.

Colonel Chuck Scott, one of the American hostages who spent 444 days in a hellish prison during the Iran hostage crisis, taught me that. He told me the positive part of his experience was the fact he learned to appreciate every day, no matter what the weather or his finances might look like.

I challenge you to do the same thing. It’s easy to find things to gripe about. It takes a bit of discipline to find the positive in every situation, but once you make it a habit, you’ll be much more productive on the job and much happier at home.

For starters, here’s a list of what one person put together, showing you how to find the positive in every situation. He or she Anonymous writes:


For the wife Who says it’s hot dogs tonight, Because she is home with me, And not out with someone else.

For the husband Who is on the sofa Being a couch potato, Because he is home with me, And not out at the bars.

For the teenager Who is complaining about doing dishes, Because it means she is at home, Not on the streets.

For the taxes I pay, Because it means I am employed.

For the mess to clean after a party, Because it means I have Been surrounded by friends.

For the clothes that fit a little too snug, Because it means I have enough to eat.

For my shadow that watches me work, Because it means I am out in the sunshine.

For a lawn that needs mowing, Windows that need cleaning, And gutters that need fixing, Because it means I have a home.

For all the complaining I hear about the government, Because it means We have freedom of speech.

For the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot, Because it means I am capable of walking, And I have been blessed with transportation.

For my huge heating bill, Because it means I am warm.

For the lady behind me in church Who sings off key, Because it means I can hear.

For the pile of laundry and ironing, Because it means I have clothes to wear.

For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day, Because it means I have been capable of working hard.

For the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, Because it means I am alive.

And finally, for too much e-mail, Because it means I have friends who are thinking of me.

Again, there’s always something positive to be found in every situation. The trouble is … according to some research … 85% of the people are addicted to the negative. They tend to see the negative and talk about the negative more often than they do the positive. So you may need to practice “The Gratitude Principle” until it becomes a natural part of your personality.

And then …

=> 2. Do something nice everyday for someone who can’t pay you back.

It’s a very powerful way to not only see the positive in your life but make a difference in someone else’s life. I learned that lesson when I worked on the streets of skid row in Los Angeles, as I wrote about a few weeks ago.

You see … if you only do nice things for those who pay you back … favor for favor … you’re only making an exchange. You’re simply carrying on business. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a critical factor in the relationship building process.

But if you’re trying to perfect your attitude of gratitude, then do something nice for someone who CAN’T pay you back. My wife just did that last week. As she was moving through the checkout line at Target with her shopping cart filled to the brim, she noticed a small frail lady in front of her. The lady had one roll of the cheapest paper towels, one roll of the cheapest toilet paper, one loaf of the cheapest bread in the store, and one package of the smallest bologna. The lady was struggling to find a few coins to pay for her purchase.

Without the other lady noticing, my wife quickly took several items from her own cart, put them in with the other lady’s items, stepped forward, and asked, “Do you mind if I pay for this?” The lady was speechless but gave a slight nod. And with that my wife quickly swiped her credit card to pay for the lady’s purchases. No words were exchanged, and I doubt my wife will ever see the lady again. But the lady ran out of the store with a lift in her step and a smile on her face.

One of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, John Wooden often taught the same lesson. When he and I were both keynoting the same convention, I’ll never forget one of his lines. He said, “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

Later he told me he learned that lesson from his wife Nellie and tried to practice the principle every day. When his beloved wife died in 1985, it left a terrible void in his life. But he continued to practice the principle by continuing to do some things for his wife, even though she was gone. For decades after her death, Wooden maintained a monthly ritual of visiting her grave on the 21st of each month. And then he wrote her a love letter, placed it in an envelope, and added it to a stack of similar letters he had written over the years that sat on the pillow she slept on during their life together.

To get the power of the positive working for you, stop keeping score. Stop worrying about whose turn it is to lead the meeting at work or whose turn it is to invite you over for dinner. Start doing things for people who CAN’T pay you back … and you’ll be so much more thankful for what you do have.

PS: Please note, I said do things for people who CAN’T pay you back, not WON’T pay you back. There are some people out there … at work and in your personal life … who WON’T pay you back because they’re lazy, irresponsible, don’t care, or feel entitled to what they got from you. Stay away from those types of people.

Action:  Find 3 challenging situations in your life or work this week. And then take time to find the positive in each of those situations.