Conversations in Management: Gratitude

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you.

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

St. AugustineAs he walked along the beach Emerson felt the warmth of the sun on his face and strangely, felt it warming his heart as well. He watched the play of light on the waves and began to sense a connectedness with nature that would later come to define his life. He would write, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” His spirit, now, was deeply satisfied and content. He’d spend afternoons writing poetry or adding entries in his journal. Evenings were with friends, drinking wine and talking politics or religion or culture. A new friend was Prince Achille Murat—nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte—who spoke of war and empire. Emerson had graduated from Harvard just five months earlier and was fascinated by the worldly prince. He’d come to the exotic settlement of St. Augustine, Florida in search of a climate more temperate than Boston’s and had found it.

 Most of us would probably be grateful for the soft glow of a Florida winter when the alternative was a bone chilling Massachusetts February. That’s the kind of oversized and obvious thing that makes us give thanks. Everyone experiences them. It might be the collision you narrowly avoid, the promotion you snag at work or the hundred bucks you win in the lottery (momentarily forgetting that you’d spent $200 on tickets). They can be personal as well. Like discovering that the love of your life loves you too, seeing your kids succeed or finding your folks comfortably situated in their old age. When Thanksgiving rolls around, we generally remember to be thankful for the meal, the fellowship of our table and our “health.” That’s about it for expressions of gratitude. But there’s more to it. When you pan for gold, there will be some nuggets, but you make your money on the thousands of small flakes that add up to ounces. And that’s the way it is in life. We have a few great things happen to us from time to time, but everyday we’re awash in moments of beauty and kindness. We achieve minor, but important, victories. They’re so commonplace that we hardly notice. So we let them pass without ever experiencing gratitude in our own hearts or expressing gratitude to others. And we all end up poorer for it. Two decades of research has shown that when we express gratitude, we’re healthier and happier. What’s more, our expression of gratitude is motivational, makes others feel happy as well and fosters healthy relationships. There’s no downside. But in the absence of gratitude, something else takes root. It’s entitlement. If gratitude is thankfulness for the good things in life, entitlement is believing you have a right to those things. If you don’t get them, you’ll find yourself dissatisfied and envious. There’s no upside to this belief.

Thanksgiving Day is one of those big events that remind us to be thankful. But more and more, an entitlement fueled shopping frenzy is obscuring the meaning of the celebration. Don’t let it. This year make Thanksgiving Day a day-long expression of gratitude. Start when you open your eyes. Before getting out of bed think of something you’re grateful for and hold it in your memory for a moment. Throughout the day look for the gold flakes of goodness and hold on to them. Let them build up in your consciousness. Express your gratitude. Demonstrate it. Remember to say, “Thanks.” And when the day is done, bring all these good things to mind. Then drift to sleep gratefully.  —Ebert

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