What Does It Mean to Practice Gratitude?
Issue 83, Nov 23, 2022
We’ve been thinking about gratitude, and not just because it’s the season. Every era has its set of challenges and disasters, and each ensuing decade we think it’s getting worse. But we would argue that perception is based on the human condition that we are risk averse and generally content to live in a safe and secure bubble, professionally and personally. That’s not an indictment, it’s just the way we are wired.
So, on the surface, it looks like the world falling apart in front of us: mass killings, the never-ending war in Ukraine, a crypto-financial meltdown (that actually may be a good thing), cyberbullying and misinformation, global warming, an ongoing, divisive political stand-off, and you name what else. Yet, this is where gratitude comes in. We are resilient. We never give up. We transform our businesses. We pivot. We help strangers. We continue to have children. We course correct. We prevail.
Put into context, at 2040 we encourage our clients to practice gratitude, coming from a place of mindfulness and awareness. What does that mean? Active listening. Thinking outside of oneself and instead in the minds of customers and clients. Collaboration. Facing conscious bias and uncovering unconscious bias. Giving stakeholders a voice. Transparency and authenticity. Confident humility. Honesty. Thanking people. Even handwriting personal notes!
These attributes are not cliches. They are the backbone of any enlightened organization, society and for ourselves. Gratitude is compassion, and compassion is based on empathy – the thread that connects us. Because we are a curious team, we took a look at the original Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address to see where it all started. It opens with gratitude to the people: “Today we have gathered, and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.” And after acknowledging every single element of the natural and supernatural worlds, it ends with the closing words: “We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way. Now our minds are one.”
But there is one passage in the address that particularly caught our attention. “We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.” So, we ask the question: Who are your teachers? Who do you teach? How do you as a professional play the role of an enlightened teacher? This, we believe, is the crux of gratitude. If we can freely share our knowledge, insights, advice, and natural curiosity, it builds generations of grateful co-workers, colleagues, friends and family.
There are personal and professional benefits to gratitude. Journalist Barbara O’Brien writes:
- “Gratitude develops patience. Psychologists have corroborated the gratitude-patience link. People with a strong sense of gratitude are more likely to be able to delay gratification, passing on a small reward now in favor of a greater reward later.
- Gratitude is an antidote to greed. Greed often comes from a sense of not having enough, or at least not having as much as everyone else has. Gratitude assures us that what we have is enough; greed and gratitude cannot peacefully coexist, it seems. The same goes for jealousy, regret, resentment, and many other negative emotions.
- We should be grateful for difficulties. It’s really the difficult times that teach us the most.”
Personally, and professionally, life is filled with experiences, some anticipated, some complete surprises. In our pursuit for life’s success, our measure is typically what we have earned, built or bought. But at the end of the day (or life), material stuff is simply that, stuff. We know our markers for success are important to most of us; they are the economic system that our country is built on. But we argue that the material world needs a reset and a rebalance.
As we have shared with you many times, the true measure of a successful organization, team and leadership is compassion; it helps us through our challenges with knowledge and insight. So, recognizing those around us is a beneficial two-way street. We make others feel better and we also experience a sense of well-being when acknowledging others. Practicing gratitude isn’t restricted to spiritual or faith-based groups. Every community (private and professional) has its rituals and language for gratitude. And because it is the season, it’s a good reminder to practice the art and grace of giving thanks, not just tomorrow, but to cultivate it daily.
Get “The Truth about Transformation”
The 2040 construct to change and transformation. What’s the biggest reason organizations fail? They don’t honor, respect, and acknowledge the human factor. We have compiled a playbook for organizations of all sizes to consider all the elements that comprise change and we have included some provocative case studies that illustrate how transformation can quickly derail.