by Karl Staib, author of Bring Gratitude
“Start each day with a positive thought and a grateful heart.”
The summer before my dad died I remember going on a beautiful nature hike with him. Although he didn’t complain one bit, my dad must have been drained from his MDS (bone cancer) coursing through his body. Unbeknownst to any of us at the time, that undiagnosed, terminal cancer was killing off his white blood cells as we hiked
One step forward after another, we enjoyed the trees and the stream that ran along the trail. Then we came across some wild raspberry bushes. “Hey, Gavin, look!” I heard my dad say with an excited whisper to my 7-year-old son. “Let’s eat some of those raspberries on that bush over there!” I’ll always remember how my dad used to whisper in an excited tone like that. It used to catch my attention when I was a kid, and sure enough it caught my son’s attention that day too.
My dad skipped over to the raspberry bush with Gavin and they excitedly picked enough fruit for all of us. It was this childlike presence and joy my dad would exude that could make a simple experience so magical, or a tough experience more manageable. He lived every day of his life like that—he set such a great example for all of us—even after his fatal diagnosis, until his very last breath. Words can’t explain how much I admire and miss this about him. And yet, there have been plenty of times since my dad’s death when I’ve completely forgotten about the wonderful example he set. Instead, I’ve let everyday stress get the best of me.
The Power of Perspective
Lately, work has been tough. I’ve been feeling like the more I do, the more work gets piled on my desk. And sometimes I honestly feel like I can’t breathe.
Deep down I know I need to remember to bring myself back to the present moment—to take time to appreciate the little things even when my work life is at its most stressful and exhausting levels. But it’s hard not to fall into the same old traps, like complaining to a coworker or simply frowning all day long. In the heat of the moment the wrong things often feel right! And learning to do the opposite has taken some practice. This practice, though, has been worth it.
Just last month my boss asked me to attend an all-day meeting. I was already feeling overwhelmed, but of course I said “yes.” Then my mind went straight into complaining mode. I began to ask myself some really negative questions, like:
- “Doesn’t he see how hard I’m working?”
- “Doesn’t he appreciate my time?”
- “Doesn’t he know I don’t have time for an all day meeting?”
Then, as soon as I caught myself in the act, I began to practice—to combat these negative questions by answering them with more presence and gratitude.
- “Of course he sees how hard I’m working; that’s why he thinks I can handle this all-day meeting.”
- “Of course he appreciates my time, but he appreciates my ability to get quality work done even more.”
- “Of course he knows I don’t have time to waste, but this meeting is important to him and he is trusting me to attend and represent our team.”
And, gradually, I began to feel better. My perspective shifted as I felt gratitude for a boss who trusts me and relies on me. Now, weeks later, I’m still feeling sincerely grateful for the work I do and the people I work for.
The Power of a Gratitude Ritual
For most of us, the kind of perspective shift I’ve just described above doesn’t come overnight. In fact, it has taken me years to develop and perfect with consistent practice. Over the years, I’ve literally practiced shifting my perspective in almost every area of my life. And the results of doing so have been truly life-changing.
The first perspective-shifting tool I started with years ago was just a simple gratitude journal. Every day for a whole year I wrote down three things I was grateful for, even when times were really heartbreaking, as they unexpected became for me. When my dad was lying in his hospital bed, for example, I felt the need to jot down what I was learning from the situation. I watched how unhappy he was on the inside. He was miserable and feeling depressed, and yet trying so hard to play it off. It was hard for me to appreciate anything about his circumstance, or mine.
I started writing about my dad’s cancer in little stories. Each story would start with a problematic reality and I would look at it from every angle until I could find a small sliver of gratitude. I ended up turning these stories into Bring Gratitude, a book that helped me process my dad’s death and thrive ever since.
I knew gratitude had a lot of benefits, but I never thought about it as a tool for grieving. I suppose until I was knee deep in that grief, I never realized how powerful it was. And I certainly didn’t realize how my little gratitude journaling ritual would positively affect nearly every aspect of my life in the weeks, months and years ahead.
In his book, Why We Do What We Do, researcher Edward Deci explains that when someone has six positive interactions to one negative, they are 31% more productive in their general everyday life. This is mostly due to the fact that positive thoughts and interactions make it easier for us to focus on what matters, and let go of what does not. When I was in that hospital room with my dad at the end, I focused on how grateful I was to have another moment with him, and I let go of everything else. And my gratitude journal was ultimately the tool I leveraged each day to manufacture the extra positive thoughts and interactions I needed, so I could maintain a present and grateful perspective at such a time.
One day at a time, one small gratitude at a time, I grew, I healed, and I thrived.
A Challenge for You
If you’ve been reading any of Marc & Angel’s work for even a short time, you likely realize how passionate they are about the importance of daily rituals. In their own words, here’s a quick bit they share in their New York Times bestselling book:
“Are you willing to spend a little time every day like most people won’t, so you can spend the better part of your life like most people can’t? Think about that question for a moment. Let it sink in. You ultimately become what you repeatedly do. And isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different? That’s the power of daily rituals.”
So, I have a daily ritual challenge for YOU:
Start a gratitude journal and write one small entry in it every single day for the next two weeks.
“Small” is important to remember too. No one tries to establish a new healthy ritual and succeeds right away. For example, most people who exercise every day have failed in the past. They picked workouts that were too long, or didn’t incorporate enough time for a workout into their busy schedule. But the ones who pick it back up and eventually succeed in the long run are the ones who ease into it, one small workout a day. They make it a ritual and make sure they establish a routine that works for them.
Another important point is to understand why. Make sure you understand why you want to be a little more grateful every day. Maybe it’s to help with your outlook or to become a little more resilient. Finding your “why” will help you stick with your daily gratitude journal.
Finally, I suggest you start by focusing on the small things. Or, as Marc & Angel have again shared in their book, remember that: “Happiness is letting go of what you assume your life is supposed to be like right now, and sincerely appreciating it for everything that it is.”
Every day for the final two weeks of January, just write what you are grateful for and why. I suggest something simple like this:
- I’m grateful for my coworker because she is always willing to listen and help.
- I’m grateful for my ability to dance in my car seat when I’m stuck at a traffic light because it allows me to release my stress.
- I’m grateful for my pets because they make me feel loved and needed.
Again, the key component here is your why. It’s so important because it helps deepen the gratitude journal experience. With a solid “why” and a little consistency, I guarantee that within just a few short days of journaling you’ll notice at least a slight improvement in your overall attitude.
Also, if you’re interested, you can join the free 30-Day Bring Gratitude Challenge. We already started back on January 1st, but you still have the next two weeks to strengthen your mindset through the remainder of January (and we’re going to do the challenge again on February 1st, too). Come join us here and you’ll get email updates and a private Facebook group. If you have any questions I am available 7 days a week. My goal is to get the smartest and most caring people together to create an amazing community, so we can help each other learn from our mistakes and build a life we love.
Now, it’s YOUR turn…
I’d love to know: What are you most grateful for right now and why?
Do you have any other thoughts on gratitude to share?
Please leave me a reply below.
Author Bio: Karl Staib is a corporate educator on the power and facilitation of workplace happiness, the author of Bring Gratitude, and the Creator of the 30-Day Bring Gratitude Challenge. He is also a long-time friend of Marc & Angel, and a two-time speaker at Marc & Angel’s annual Think Better, Live Better seminar.