Cultivating The Attitude of Gratitude

“Joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
Marianne Williamson, author of “A Return To Love”

Research has shown that when people count their blessings they get a measurable boost in energy and happiness. But counting your blessings … or practicing an attitude of gratitude … is easier said than done when times are tough. It seems more natural to worry and complain.

Unfortunately, worrying and complaining, or taking on a depressed and negative attitude, is just about the worst thing you can do when times are tough. If the economy doesn’t sink you, these self-destructive behaviors and attitudes will.

That’s why I gave you two strategies in last week’s “Tuesday Tip” … two strategies that would allow you to practice “The Gratitude Principle.” Because gratitude releases the energy, creativity, and stick-to-activity you need to get through the tough times. I said you need to: 1) find the positive in every situation, and 2) do something nice everyday for someone who can’t pay you back. Let’s dig into “The Gratitude Principle” a little bit further this week.

=> 3. Put things in perspective.

Study history. Know your facts. And you’ll keep yourself away from the two extremes of pretending or catastrophizing.

For example, you can’t bury your head in the sand and pretend nothing bad is going on in “business land.” You can’t be like the two-year old child who closes his eyes and says, “You can’t see me.” That would be silly. There are some huge threats to our businesses and our ways of life taking place right now.

By the same token, you need to put things in perspective to avoid catastrophizing. This isn’t the first time or even the worst time for our economy. Back in the early 1980’s, interest rates were 21%. Farms were going bankrupt in record numbers. And the divorce and suicide rate amongst the farming population was soaring. But we got through those tough times and we will get through these tough times … if we keep things in perspective.

Tonya Wright-Cook, a Quality Assurance Specialist for the State of South Dakota, told me how she does it. She does it by reflecting on the story of the wealthy father and his son. One day the father took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.

On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?” “It was great, Dad.”

“Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked. “Oh yeah,” said the son.

“So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father.

The son answered: “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, but they have friends to protect them.”

The boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added, “Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.”

You see … perspective is a wonderful thing. It makes you wonder what would happen if we all gave thanks for everything we have, instead of worrying about what we don’t have.

It’s like the comment made by one person who said, “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”

And then…

=> 4. Be thankful for what you do have.

Give thanks today and everyday. Don’t wait for a crisis to clarify your vision as to what you have and what’s really important.

One of my program attendees at “The Payoff Principle: How To Motivate Yourself To Win Every Time In Any Situation” shared this strategy with me.

It was Lisa Blaum who reminded me of this strategy when Hurricane Katrina wiped out her home in August of 2005. She wrote me the following note:

“Hi, Dr Z: Remember me? The budding motivational speaker in New Orleans who has been seeking your mentoring via e-mail as I put together a workshop for teenagers? Well, I lost all my research materials and my original workshop manuscript in Katrina. We got about five feet of black water in our house.

“My husband and I were able to go into our house about three weeks after the flood. It truly was a disaster. All the furniture was ruined and tossed around the house like toys. The floor was slippery with a black substance. Mold was everywhere, and the smell was awful. My husband and I were covered from head to toe in protective gear including goggles and a face mask. To add to the misery, it was a record 97 degrees in New Orleans the day we got in.

“We evacuated to my sister’s home in the Atlanta area with six other family members and our dog. It was there that we watched the national news in horror as our beloved home and city became part of the worst natural disaster to hit the United States. “While in Atlanta, my young nephew asked me, ‘Aunt Lisa, did you get all the important things out of your house before you left?’

“While my mind raced through thoughts of important papers and photos and jewelry and sentimental items, my sister was quicker to respond to him than I was. She simply said, ‘Yes, she got her husband and her children!’

“So I am truly blessed that all I lost were ‘things.’ Eventually they can all be replaced. And today I came to a public library to use the Internet and check my e-mail. How nice to see your ‘Tuesday Tip.’ It was a little slice of normalcy for me in the midst of a topsy-turvy existence. Your words were timely and helpful as usual.” In the middle of disaster and in the middle of losing all the “things” in her life, Lisa learned it’s still possible to be thankful for what she did have. She reminds us all … great power is released when you use the “The Gratitude Principle.”

So ask yourself, “Do you know what’s really really important in your life? And are you giving thanks for what you have?”


=> 5. Be thankful for what you don’t have.

One of the most common ways people stress themselves out is by comparing themselves to others who have more … more money, more business, more customers, and more things. And that simply doesn’t feel good.

The good new is … it’s physiologically impossible to be stressed out and thankful at the same time. So if you’re thankful for what you don’t have, you’ll cope with the tough times much more effectively.

Personally, I like the way one poem puts it. And I suspect a lot of you who are reading this “Tip” need to recite this poem every day until you get your own head re-adjusted. It says:

“Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire. If you did, what would there be to look forward to? Be thankful when you don’t know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn. Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow. Be thankful for your limitations, because they give you opportunities for improvement. Be thankful for each new challenge, because it will build your strength and character. Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons. Be thankful when you’re tired and weary, because it means you’ve made a difference. It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks. Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings.”

To summarize, no matter what’s going on in your life or your business, remember “The Gratitude Principle.” Use it every day to make your good days better and your bad days tolerable.

Use it to put more success in your life. As Mark Twain put it, “Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.”

Action:  Make a list of all the things you don’t have. And then write out a second list that specifies why you’re thankful for all the things you don’t have.