Want To Succeed In Business AND Have a Great Life? Start By Being Grateful
Wait a minute, you’re thinking - shouldn’t that be the other way around? We think we’ll feel grateful at some future date when we’re successful and have a great life. (If that date ever comes, we add cynically, sotto voce.)
Let’s define our terms. Gratitude is simply “the quality of being thankful.” To get in touch with what this feels like, remember the last time you narrowly avoided a bad consequence: stopped just in time to avoid a car accident; got an “all clear” on an important medical test; caught yourself before taking a very bad fall. You feel a wash of adrenaline, and then a heartfelt, Thank god. You have a sudden and crystal clear sense of how fortunate you are – not to have crashed your car, not to have a disease, not to have broken your neck. All at once, you appreciate being alive and whole as the gift that it is, as a fragile and wonderful state of affairs.
When you’re in a situation like that, you realize that ordinary life is more than worthy of your full appreciation and thankfulness. You know immediately that all the things you usually think are necessary in order for you to feel fulfilled and satisfied (wealth, power, true love, more stuff) are truly icing on the cake. That would all be great, but – oh my god: I’m alive.
Circumstances like these make you realize that feeling grateful is not actually dependent upon having achieved certain things. Some people feel grateful for the simplest things — and some people never feel grateful at all, no matter how wealthy, powerful, beautiful, or healthy they may be.
There was a great little article on Inc.com last summer by Goeffrey James about the power of gratitude. He talks about gratitude as “an emotional muscle,” one that can (and should) be used and strengthened. He notes, and I completely agree:
People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.
I would add that people who are grateful not only seek out more successes, they draw successes into their lives. When you are grateful, others like to be around you. Your appreciation includes and supports them. You help them see the positive elements inherent in daily life, and to feel more hopeful about the possibility of future success. Customers (and potential customers) love to feel that you are grateful for their business; it creates strong bonds of loyalty and mutual support. Employees are more committed and productive when they know that you are thankful to have them on your team. Great resource and partners of all sorts are attracted to you when they feel appreciated for who they are and what they bring to the party.
And gratitude feels wonderful, too. Gratitude is like a warm emotional light, shining within you to banish greed, bitterness, selfishness, jealousy, envy, stinginess – all the most limiting and corrosive emotions.
So, how do you get more grateful?
As Geoffrey James suggests, it’s helpful to think of gratitude as an emotional muscle that will grow and strengthen with intentional use. We’ve all see those little magazine articles that tell you how to “Build Great Abs at Your Desk in Just 5 Minutes a Day.” I don’t know about whether it works for abs, but it definitely works for gratitude.
I suggest you make two little cards (you can just cut an index card in half, or use the back of your business card) both of which say, “I’m glad…” or “I’m thankful…” Put one on your desk, so you see it when you’re at work, and the other somewhere at home where you’re most likely to see it often (on the corner of the TV, propped against the lamp on your nightstand, on the frig).
Whenever you notice one of the cards, complete the sentence starter in a way that’s true for you at that moment. So: “I’m glad…the presentation went well this morning,” or “I’m thankful…for my husband’s support,” or “I’m glad…they decided to do something about the food in the cafeteria.” It can be a big thing or a small thing, personal, professional, or global. As you do this, and begin to cultivate the experience of gratitude, I suspect you will notice all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle positive changes: in how others relate to you, in how you feel about your life, in how you weather difficulties. You may even see changes in your health, or in your closest relationships.
You may, in fact, notice over time that your efforts to be successful in business and to have a great life are bearing more and more fruit. And then you can be even more grateful. One of the marvelous things about gratitude – it has no upper limit, as far as I can tell. You can be as grateful as you want to be. Go for it.