On Your Mission… To Practice Gratitude

by Tim Rinaldi
5 min read

When you experience adversity, is your instinct to focus on the negatives?

Do you struggle to find the positives in these situations? 

Do you wish you were more resilient to overcome and grow from adversity more quickly?

As I wrote in my post on Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Sandberg was eventually able to develop resilience in the aftermath of her husband’s tragic death due in large part to learning the power of gratitude. Immediately after his death, she suffered from intense grief and experienced the “3 P’s”: personalization, believing that she was at fault for his death; pervasiveness, believing that it would affect all areas of her life; and permanence, believing that the aftershocks of his death would last forever. 

Eventually, with Adam Grant’s help, she was able to experience post-traumatic growth by realizing that no matter how terrible things got, it could have been worse. She sought reasons to be grateful, even the realization that her husband’s death could have involved their children; eventually, she realized she had control, became hopeful, and developed resilience. She learned to find three moments of joy each day, and doing so helped her to better see how much she had to be thankful for.  

With all that has resulted from the pandemic, I thought it would be valuable to devote a post to gratitude – why it’s important, how to put it into practice, and my personal experience with it. I hope these lessons will have a similar impact in your career and personal life! 

1- Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the powerful impact of practicing gratitude

The Greater Good Magazine, from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, compiled the numerous benefits that research has shown result from practicing gratitude:

  • It brings us happiness – it is one of the most reliable methods for also boosting optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions
  • It reduces anxiety and depression
  • It’s good for our bodies – it can strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce the symptoms of illness; it can also encourage us to take better care of our health 
  • It helps us to sleep better 
  • As Sandberg and Grant also wrote, it helps us to be more resilient in the face of (even extreme) adversity
  • It strengthens our relationships, helping us to feel closer to others, especially our loved ones, and promotes forgiveness
  • It makes us more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate

2- There are many ways we can practice gratitude each and every day

Along with the Greater Good Magazine, these articles also shared ways we can better practice gratitude: Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier, by Harvard Health, and In Times of Crisis, a Little Thanks Goes a Long Way, by Sabina Nawaz in the Harvard Business Review. Here are their suggested methods:

  • Three good things – similar to Sandberg’s practice of finding three moments of joy each day, this method involves writing down three things that went well each day for at least a week (and why they went well)
  • Gratitude letter – this should be written to someone to show our deep gratitude and ideally presented to them in person soon afterwards 
    • Even if we don’t have time to write the letter, intentionally reflecting on the nice things others have done for us will still have positive effects on us 
  • Mental subtraction of positive events – this method involves analyzing the positive events in our lives, their impact, and all the variables that could have gone differently and prevented them from happening; in doing so, we’ll have greater appreciation that these positive events did happen 
  • Savoring walk – this should be done for twenty minutes every day for one week, noticing all of the positive things in our environment that we normally would take for granted (their examples include how tall the trees are, intricate architecture, people’s expressions, and the smell of nature)
  • Give it up – by giving up something for a week that we enjoy doing on a regular basis, we’ll appreciate it more when we allow ourselves to indulge in it again 
  • Focus on others’ good intentions and efforts – this will help us to appreciate their actions even more than when we just focus on the outcomes 
  • With work, we should create a culture of gratitude by giving thanks as a team and striving to celebrate our colleagues whose efforts would typically go unsung

3- From my experience, working with people in developing countries was a powerful reminder of what was most important in life

During college, I had incredible experiences on mission/service trips in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and near the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. We’d work with people who didn’t have electricity or running water, let alone cellphones, video games, or the many other things we’d struggle to live without. We witnessed the little things that brought them joy, not to mention the stories of walking six hours down a mountain to get medical care and seeing the imprints of belt straps on the Kenyan women’s skulls from hanging buckets of water they were retrieving for their families. 

These experiences helped us to realize how much we took for granted back home and how much time we wasted stressing over things that ultimately didn’t matter all that much. We learned to better appreciate the advantages we’d been born with in the US – if my car won’t start in the morning, rather than becoming angry at my misfortune, I should be thankful that I’m not stranded, I can get it fixed, and for all the times it does run as it should. If I lose sleep because my children are sick, rather than feeling sorry for myself, I should be thankful that their condition isn’t worse, and if it does worsen, I can easily seek the medical care they’d need. At the end of the day, if we have the people we love and the basic needs of life, everything else can and will be figured out. 

No matter what stresses you have at the moment, what all do you have to be thankful for? How can you better remind yourself of that during moments of adversity? Which of the suggested methods of practicing gratitude can you put into action starting today? How will practicing gratitude impact your mission in your personal life and career?

In 10% Happier, Dan Harris wrote of his experience seeking mindfulness and how it made him happier and more thankful. One of the lessons he learned was asking himself, “Is this useful?” when he was worrying or trying to plan something in the future. How much of your worries and planning is useful, and when it isn’t, how can you replace it with practicing gratitude? 

Especially with the pandemic, but even in just our typical days at work, there will always be opportunities to dwell on the negatives we’re experiencing. But what good ever comes from that? Instead, be on your mission to be resilient in the face of adversity by focusing on the positives and practicing gratitude.

How can I get better?

My mission is to impact as many people as I can from what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown in my career. If you have any feedback on how I can do that better (about my writing style, other books/articles/videos I should check out, etc.), I’d love to hear it!

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