I'm curious. Do you think it's important to have an attitude of thankfulness? Have you thought about what that might mean to your well-being? I know I have. I also know that it's something I often struggle to maintain.
Today I want to explore whether having an attitude of thankfulness or gratitude, can change us.
Have An Attitude of Thankfulness
I Googled the term attitude with gratitude. According to multiple sources, Zig Ziglar gets the credit for it.
Zig was a Christian motivational speaker who I had the privilege of meeting when I embarked on my first sales job in the late seventies. He and the founder of the company where I worked were good friends. As such, he spoke at a lot of the national meetings. He was by far the most positive person I had ever met. To this day I haven't met anyone with the kind of outlook on life that Zig had.
People often perceive those with a positive outlook as someone who's never had to deal with any significant problems. In fact, just the opposite is often true. It wasn't as if Zig was a guy who had no problems. He dealt with some severe challenges in his life.
Zig Ziglar wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Quite the opposite.
He grew up in Yazoo City, MS dirt poor. His father died when he was six. That left his mother to raise him and his ten brothers and sisters (you heard that right) by herself. Zig was quick to give his mother all the credit for his work ethic and positive attitude in life. She was a woman of strong Faith who instilled that faith into her children. She wanted them to know that she and God both loved them and always would.
Tragedy struck Zig and his wife (whom he affectionately called the RedHead) when they had children of their own. Their oldest daughter fell ill, and her health declined rapidly. She was clinging to life. The medication doctors gave her to fight the illness didn't work. She died several months after she started getting sick. No parent should have to bury their children.
That's what happened to Zig and his Redhead.
Responding to tragedy
Listen to what Zig said after her death. “We have no regrets,” Zig told several well-wishers. “She knew we loved her. We feel no regret.”
You can read more of Zig's story in this article, Keep an Attitude of Gratitude.
Here's a quote from the article that I love.
“According to Zig, ‘The more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for.' ”
And that's precisely the way he lived his life. Zig died of pneumonia on November 28, 2012, at the age of 86. He left a lasting legacy of hope and gratitude from which we can all benefit.
What Psychologists Say About Gratitude
Psychologists tell us that having a thankful attitude will improve our lives. In fact, there is a field of psychology called positive psychology. What does that mean? Positive psychology is the study of happiness.
In an article written for Psychology Today, Kate F. Hays, Ph.D. cites Dr. Sonja Lyobomirsky.
In her book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Dr. Lyobomirsky offers eight ways that gratitude can boost happiness:
- Grateful thinking promotes the appreciation of positive life experiences
- Expressing gratitude bolsters self-worth and self-esteem
- Gratitude helps people cope with stress and trauma (the one we’re focused on today)
- Expressing gratitude encourages moral behavior
- Gratitude helps build social bonds
- Expressing gratitude helps us not make negative comparisons with others
- Practicing gratitude is incompatible with negative emotion; it diminishes emotions like anger, bitterness, or greed
- Practicing gratitude helps us remain aware of the present moment and not take things for granted
That's a pretty compelling list!
We are living in one of the most competitive times I can remember. Advertisers pound us with messages about things they say we need to make us feel better, look better, or better represent success.
We see our neighbors and friends driving the big fancy cars or living in the house of our dreams. The natural tendency is to compare ourselves to the success it seems they have. But that is an exercise in futility.
I'm sure there are exceptions, but I can't think of anything good that comes from comparing ourselves to others. Why? Appearances can be deceiving. We often don't have the whole picture of what's going on in the lives of the people to whom we're comparing ourselves. Just because someone drives the nice car, wears designer labels, and has the big house, doesn't mean they're happy.
In my experience, those things often cover up weaknesses, pain, and self-doubt. Many other things lurk beneath the surface that we don't see. And let's face it. There will always be someone who appears to have what you want or is more successful than you are. There will also be those who appear to have much less but are much happier. Comparing ourselves to others leads to negative thoughts. It can even lead to depression in some cases.
My advice – Don't make comparisons!
How to Become More Grateful
If you're a generally grumpy person or one who feels life dealt you a bad hand, here are some things to try.
- Start small – At the end of each day, think of at least two things that happened that day for which you feel grateful. Things happen every day that are positive. Maybe someone complimented you on your appearance. Perhaps someone let you get in front of them in the line at the store (it does happen). Doing this daily creates a habit that will be lasting.
- Think big – Once you develop a habit of gratefulness for the small things, expand your thinking. Do you have a roof over your head, food on the table, clothes that to wear in every season, car(s) to drive, a job? That's a pretty good list of things for which to be thankful. If you don't stop to think about it, you will likely take these things for granted.
- Volunteer – I can't think of a better way to understand how blessed we are than to serve those who are less fortunate. When I worked in Washinton, DC, I drove a van every Monday that took food to the homeless at three locations on the streets of DC. We served hot meals, sandwiches, water, and hot or iced tea to hundreds of people every day. Doing this gave me a whole different view of how much I had. It's one of the best things you can do to become more grateful.
- Be an encourager – We see other people every day who we know are struggling. Maybe they have wayward children. Perhaps they're in the midst of a problematic relationship. Nowadays, many people get laid off or lose jobs. Stand with them in their troubles. That doesn't mean trying to fix them or their problems. Encouragement comes from just being present with them in their struggles. That leads to our being grateful for being able to help someone who is hurting.
- If necessary, fake it – Does that sound crazy? It isn't. You've heard the phrase, “fake it until you make it” right? What that means is that if you don't feel grateful, fake it like you are. How? Smile more. Research shows that smiling increases dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical that triggers feelings of pleasure. Doesn't that sound like a pretty simple solution? Smiling takes little effort and has tremendous benefits. You'll feel better. The people around you will feel better. Why not give it a try?
There seems to be a greater feeling of anxiousness these days than I can remember. Everyone seems to agree that stress levels and tensions are higher than ever. If we're not careful, we can get caught up in it and allow it to bring us down.
We could debate all day long whether this is true and, if so, the causes of it. I'm not interested in that debate. Instead, I'd like us to focus on what we can do in our little corners of the world to make it a better place.
When we have an attitude of thankfulness, it helps us and those around us. But it's a choice. We can choose to have a positive or negative outlook on life. Gratitude promotes this positive attitude.
I commit to working harder at being grateful. I commit to ending each day by counting my blessings. I'll continue to encourage others. I'll work hard to have an attitude of thankfulness.
If you're up for it, I invite you to join me in this quest. Together, we can have an impact.
As a financial advisor for almost 30 years, Fred shares his expertise on personal finance, investing, and other relevant topics on Your Money Geek and many other financial media. He has been quoted or featured in Money Magazine, MarketWatch, The Good Men Project, Thrive Global, and many other publications.