Gratitude X Attitude = Grattitude. Bronx, NYC, 2016 - Photo by D. Wiacek
Humanity has some room for improvement.
I’m here in my living room, having just recovered from a flu-like cold (or maybe a cold-like flu?), with a residual cough so loud it could cause an avalanche. And, yet, despite my unpleasant physical state, the only thing on my mind is gratitude. I used to commute via MetroNorth from Westchester to Manhattan every day (the above photo was taken from the train as we passed through the Bronx), and I used to be bummed not about how sad or exhausted my fellow commuters looked, but about the fact that I probably looked just as bad as everyone else. It wasn’t a pleasant realization. Of course, most of my fellow passengers came from at least middle-class if not upper-class households, so the misery was all the more striking. After all, most of the train’s occupants had no reason to look so wretched—at least from a material standpoint.
I’m a recovering psychology major, and over the years, I’ve leafed through thousands of books, journal articles, online blogs, and other digital clippings devoted to various self-help topics. One theme that permeates most of the literature is the idea that harnessing gratitude can help get you unstuck from life’s ruts. For the longest time I didn’t believe that anyone could use gratitude as a tool to combat real troubles, whether professional or personal. I’ll save you the time-consuming burden of reading all those books and articles (and I won’t charge you a dime for the thousands of hours I’ve saved you, either—it’s my gift to you!). Below is a distillation of those countless and very valuable books and blogs, colored by my own experience and that of my friends, relatives and career coaching clients on the “how/what/why” of practicing gratitude.
Consider making it a regular practice.
As with any good habit, daily practice yields maximum benefits. If not every day, then practice gratitude as often as you remember to do it. Certainly not just once a year at the Thanksgiving table. That’s often just for show, or because of social pressure. Rather, set up a daily reminder on your phone, but during a time of day that makes sense for you. If your mornings are hectic, you’ll just hit snooze and ignore the reminder. You know yourself better than that! Be honest with yourself. Find that minute or 5 in the day or night when you have some time to pause and reflect.
Start it first thing in the morning.
I know that above I said find time either in the day or night, but I’m a huge proponent of starting the day off on the right foot (which in my case, being a leftie, is my left foot). I do my best, as we all do, to avoid my phone as the first interaction of the day, though sometimes I fail. I even go so far as to “hack” my internet browsing experience: I set my browser’s default home page to show positive news (inspirational, funny, nature-related, cute, etc.). Rather than reading an urgent email from a client to make my heart pump, or seeing the tragic news of the day to make my heart sink, I make sure the first thing I do in the morning is pause and reflect on all the good things in my life. I have a job—no, a career—that I absolutely love (it wasn’t always that way). I have a roof over my head, and clothes, and a puppy who makes my heart melt at least thrice a day (I lied! He’s a 6-year-old dog but he looks and acts like a puppy; he even taught me a few things about the job search). Practicing gratitude as the day's first order of business colors the experience of my entire day. I’m that much more upbeat and resilient, no matter how tough the day may become. And that’s no lie.
Make it viral.
Share gratitude with others. I call gratitude-sharing the “contagious silver lining syndrome.” Think about it: when you come across someone who is joyful and grateful, it rubs off on you. It immediately elevates your mood and reminds you to find the good in your life; whereas when you encounter a miserable creature--whether at work or at home--it just drains your mood and depletes your energy, clouds your judgment, and decreases productivity/creativity/desire. Well, you can become that inspirational person for others. If you are grateful for something, it doesn’t hurt to share that sentiment (it can be gratitude for anything, and doesn’t have to gratitude for that person specifically, although you do earn karmic bonus points if that’s the case.). A smile, a kind word or gesture… these things go a long way. Whether you’re heading to an interview or you see someone else who is, share the love. It’ll come back to you some day, in some way (or at the very least you’ll feel good about it in the moment).
Workplace gratitude for your talents… and limitations.
Be grateful for your own strengths. Own what you know! Be proud of what you have already accomplished—whether it’s a technical task or an interpersonal achievement, like leading a team to success on a tough cookie of a project. But also be grateful for your own limitations. These shortcomings may feel uncomfortable and cause bouts of low self-esteem, but they are the universe’s way of forcing you to interact with others, to lean on other minds and hearts. Other people will fill in the gaps, complementing the skills and knowledge you don’t yet have. Praise others (within reason), and actively learn from them. I often recommend to my career coaching clients that they invite industry leaders to an informational interview by treating them to lunch or coffee. It works wonders for building networks, and sometimes leads to a real job interview. This sort of interpersonal gratitude is, in my humble and flawed opinion, a cornerstone of any successful individual, team, organization, or work initiative (e.g. diversity/inclusiveness). Start to replace fear/doubt/inadequacy/jealousy with gratitude and you’ll go far.
Dig a little deeper. Be specific.
How should one practice gratitude? Well, that’s really a personal matter. You’ll figure it out, if you haven’t already. One thing that works for me, though, is that I don’t just perform a rote Thanksgiving Day-esque list of what I’m grateful for (i.e. home, family, health). I pick one or two things each day and get much more specific. For example, I am grateful for my legs, because they let me walk, and run, and dance, and travel. I am grateful for my friends, who gently (although sometimes not-so-gently) remind me of my shortcomings, and help me become a better human being. I’m grateful for my dog, because he shows unconditional love and gets me enjoying the outdoors several times a day. I’m grateful for this laptop: it’s light as a feather, very fast, and it connects me with friends, family and clients around the world without ever complaining (okay, maybe the occasional error message). The more specific I am, the more meaningful the exercise, and the better I feel. The gratitude spills into everything else: interactions with clients, with friends, with relatives, and even with my dog. Now if only I could learn to practice unconditional gratitude like Nacho...
Don’t force it on other people, but maybe force it on yourself.
You can’t force other people to be grateful. In fact, it might even backfire because humans can easily get jealous/righteous and respond with a “$%^@, you don’t know me! You don’t know my life! Let me be miserable!” It might seem like I’m trying to convince people in this post, but really that's not the case. I just wanted to share some insights, and if you're reading this, I'm grateful for that alone. Don’t worry; I won’t get offended if you think gratitude is a waste of time. Or maybe you practice gratitude on a regular basis, in which case you can probably skip this so-called lecture (but if you are still reading, maybe teach me a thing or two by sharing your experience in the Comments section below). After all, I’m only a novice gratitude practitioner, if that’s even the technical term for it. Sure, I hope more people would focus on gratitude rather than blame, on strengths rather than weaknesses; but at the end of the day, I can’t force anyone—except for myself. And I choose to make the effort to practice gratitude. Sometimes it feels like a chore, but not often. Even so, getting your chores done is important for a happy, fulfilling life.
Perhaps this is a stretch, but I even go so far as to be grateful for the people who drive me crazy. Whether it’s that rare but precious prospective client who contacts me 14 times before deciding to purchase my services, or a friend who knows which of my buttons to press—it’s all just a playground of life’s twists and turns, and gratitude helps me deal with it best I know how: with a patient smile.
If with this post I happen to remind just one person, in one moment, to pause and reflect on the wonder in their lives, then that’s just dandy. Icing on the cake, really. Oh, man, do I love cake. I also love my clients, and nature, and equality... so as a token of my gratitude I proudly earmark 5% of my profits toward environmental and social causes. 5% isn't much but it is something and, besides, that overpriced cup of fancy coffee can wait.
If you have any personal insights on how practicing gratitude has changed your life, feel free to share below. Thank you for reading. Have the loveliest day.
David is a career coach and copywriter. He helps professionals find more meaningful, better-paying jobs; he also crafts compelling copy for small-to-medium size businesses, both for print and digital media.
Poly-creative writer, brand marketer and career coach. Bakes a mean eclair and snaps thought-provoking photos, but is best known for helping clients achieve personal and professional growth.