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Action Based Gratitude - A Thanksgiving Tale

Today is Thanksgiving, so without further ado, here is the expected, but atypical, giving thanks blog. Instead of focusing on what I am thankful for, or naming the countless people that I am lucky to have in my life, I wanted to have a discourse on the topic of gratitude and how it affects us. 

I started thinking about this topic when I received my monthly newsletter from Holstee. Holstee is a subscription service that will send you inspirational content every month centered around a specific theme such as integrity, collaboration, etc. The monthly newsletter contains quotes, videos, guides, and all sorts of good. I highly recommend it. This month’s very appropriate theme was gratitude, and I was drawn to the following passage:

“Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine Monk and the world’s foremost teacher of gratitude, shares this important wisdom: There are many things in life we can’t be grateful for (sickness, violence, pain, injustice), but in every moment, we have the opportunity to be grateful. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. Even in challenging or painful moments, we can be grateful for the lessons they teach us, for the power to stand up and act, or for our ability to reach out and connect.”

The insight in this teaching is that gratitude does not necessarily come easily. There will be times you will be challenged to see where to find gratitude. Furthermore, It takes work to be able to be grateful. At times, we can’t help but focus on what we are lacking instead of focusing on what is right in front of us. In order for us to become more apt at seeing the good and being thankful for it, we need to train our brains to fall into that habit.

In the Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor brings up the concept of the “Tetris Effect” when a person gets so used to performing a task that their brain is trained to recognize the patterns everywhere they look. The reason it is called “The Tetris Effect” is because of an experiment done at Harvard where students were asked to play Tetris (a geometrically themed videogame) for multiple hours, three days in a row. The results were that they started to dream about the shapes in the game and started to see game patterns in everything they looked such as grocery store shelves and products, and brick walls. They couldn’t escape it.

The Happiness Advantage also points out that people with jobs that require them to find faults or attack faulty reasoning, such as lawyers and accountants, tend to do the same in their personal lives. Their brains are trained to do it regardless of the situation. Wife brings up that she can’t have dinner ready on time… a lawyer can point out the flaws in her reasons why. Kids bring in a report with spelling mistakes, a proof reader can only focus on the spelling and not the content… There are MILLIONS of examples. I do it all the time.  As a coach, I sometimes fall into coach mode with my family asking them how they will take action to solve a problem they bring up. They are not looking for me to coach them. They are looking for me to listen.

The reason I bring this up is because we train our brains every day, we are just not doing it intentionally. What if we could intentionally train our brains to be grateful? All it takes is intention and repetition.

How would that impact how we live our daily lives? You get in a car crash… instead of focusing on the damage to your car, you focus on how you did not get hurt. Got some negative feedback at work? Why not focus on the fact that your leader cared enough to bring it to your attention so that you can address it and get better? If we just get into the habit of being grateful no matter what, would we start living gratefully?

I used to tell people that if I die and go to hell, my own personal hell would be a Michael’s craft store. I would be in line waiting to check out my one item and I would be behind a 100-year lady that is redeeming over 200 expired coupons. In addition, the cashier would be 98 years old and would not know how to work the register or the scanner. I would be stuck there for eternity, or at least until the 87-year-old store manager came to see what was wrong with the coupon scanner.

After thinking about this I realized that I was the one making this my own personal hell. It was not the coupon lady, or the cashier, or the store manager. I was the only one responsible for my misery. Instead of focusing on this amusing take of 1st world hardship, how could I adjust it to make it seem less like hell? Where could I find something to be grateful about in that situation? Maybe that I was at the store and not out in the cold? That I had money to spend at Michaels to begin with? That I don’t get to spend the rest of eternity doing manual labor like Kevin from accounting? Perspective changed! Great, now I have to find a new personal hell to complain about…

So, whatever works for you, whether it is keeping a gratitude journal, or saying what you were grateful for at the dinner table, or telling your kids what you are grateful for, make it a point to train your brain to see the good. You might end up being grateful that you did.

“If you’re tired and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep… then you’ll fall asleep, counting your blessings…” – White Christmas

 Andre Mello is a Business Coach and is grateful that you took the time to read his reflections. He has been in leadership and marketing for over 16 years. To connect with Andre please visit www.wysecoaching.com.

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