My four-year-old son is an interesting kid. The other day he walked up to me, smiled, then punched me in the crotch. Oh, did it hurt. And, yes, I was grateful for that punch. I thanked God that he threw that punch.
How could I feel that way after something like that happened?
I had to admit that there was a flash of anger when he punched me, but it quickly turned into curiosity. I wondered why he did it. I didn’t have to think about it that hard. He wanted my attention. This is how he likes to play. If I had to do it over and have him punch me in the crotch again I would because I needed to learn that lesson.
I joke about this when I give presentations to companies, because it demonstrates the importance of creating the mindset that you want, so you can forgive. If you continue to worry about what someone does or how they hurt you, then you’ll never let it go. When you use gratitude to help you process the difficult things in life, it makes it easier to enjoy them. If you can’t be grateful for who that person is and what the situation taught you, then you’ll just hold on to the anger. Once you can turn the corner and be grateful for that punch — literal or metaphorical —then that’s when the healing can begin.
When I look back on my life, the most difficult times were when I grew stronger. The good times don’t test our resolve like painful things do.
I had testicular cancer nine years ago. Every morning I awoke with the possibility that my cancer could come back. This is an awful way to live. It took me a long while to let go of my fear of dying. I didn’t want to be so emotionally fragile that one weird pimple or cough sent me into a tizzy of worry.
Then I took out my journal and listed all the ways that I was grateful for my cancer.
Here are a few samples from my list:
- I’m grateful for my cancer because it’s made each day a little more precious.
- I’m grateful for my cancer because it taught me the value of living each day to the fullest.
- I’m grateful for my cancer because I get to help other people who struggle with wrapping their minds around cancer and what it means for them.
- I’m grateful for my cancer because it’s helped me appreciate each hug that I get from my wife and sons.
The list went on — it had over 50 items on it — but this list helped me put my cancer into perspective. It no longer was just this evil illness that attacked me. It was a stepping stone to me living a happier life.
Really. When a friend asked if I could go back in time and never have cancer would I do it, my gut reaction was to say yes. But I paused. I knew I needed to think before I replied.
When I took a moment to think, I realized how much I had learned from this experience. How much more depth and color my life has because of this struggle.
“No! I wouldn’t change a thing,” I told him confidently.
He seemed impressed as he nodded his head, not expecting that answer. And I get it. I’m human, too. I like things to be easy, even though they are never that way. I don’t want more cancer or heartache. I would love nothing but sunshine pouring down on me, but I’m realistic and know this isn’t possible. If I know this isn’t possible, then the best alternative is to be extremely grateful for all my stumbling blocks and hard knocks.
When we can be grateful for our stumbling blocks that whatever knocks us down won’t keep us down. That’s why we need to be curious about our thoughts and emotions, so they don’t dictate your lives. They guide us toward more joyful experiences because we use them instead of being pushed around by them.
Everything that happens to you will always be a part of your life. It’s how you use these experiences that matter. If you can use each experience as a chance for growth then you'll expand your life in new ways and become happier and more successful.
It's not an easy mindset switch. Extreme gratitude is hard. I still struggle with it. Extreme gratitude is finding gratitude in every situation from a job promotion to losing a loved one. If you can do this, you’ll cultivate a flexible mind that can overcome any obstacle.
Most people understand the power of gratitude, but I also get a lot of people who call me a Pollyanna and weak. They think that being grateful for everything is ridiculous. Many people are afraid of keeping a gratitude journal because they think it will make them complacent. In fact it's the opposite. The research proves it.They don't realize how much strength and creativity it takes to find gratitude in the difficult things.
Since I've been on this journey I looked at my life before my gratitude practice and after. I'm so much healthier, more productive and happier. I actually never thought I could be this joyful. I always thought I’d struggle with depression.
I recently asked the Mindset First Club on Facebook how they feel about their gratitude practice and whether it has helped them live a healthier life.
Martha says she has become more resilient:
Susan has started using her gratitude practice more quickly, turning to it as soon as negative thoughts strike:
Sarah has started to infuse gratitude throughout her daily routine because it helps her start and end her day:
Joanne feels more energized each morning:
Roberta uses gratitude to help deal with her tough days:
Two researchers, Chad Burton and Laura King, figured out that if people kept a journal about positive experiences, it helped increase happiness. The participants also had fewer symptoms of illness. (2)
I believe that my gratitude practice has helped me live a healthier life because I don’t let the stress sweep me away. Stress has been proven to suppress our immune systems. The more we worry about what we don’t have, the less we appreciate what we do have. When I focus on being grateful for what I do have, I am able to relax and slow down when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
I used to procrastinate like crazy. I would put off projects and reports to the last minute. It spiked my stress levels and hurt my confidence because I would usually deliver an inferior product.
In Edward Deci’s book, Why We Do What We Do, he demonstrates that if you can bring more positivity into your workplace, you’ll increase your team’s productivity. When you have six positive interactions to each negative interaction, you increase your team’s productivity by 31 percent.(1)
I can attest that having a daily gratitude practice has helped me become more productive. Since starting my gratitude practice, I’ve written a book, made time for my family, cooked dinner, created an online community, and thrived in my career. I couldn’t do all this if I didn’t stop to appreciate everything that I have and helped create. It’s these pauses that help me slow down, appreciate how great the moment I’m in is, and recharge myself so that I can keep helping more people.
My gratitude practice has also increased my happiness. I know that I’m happier, because I wake up each day excited to get out of bed. That’s a huge difference from the “me” a few years ago. Back then, I would wake up complaining right from the start. The present me is excited for what the day offers even if I have a four hour meeting that I’m scheduled to attend.
The research shows similar results. One study found that participants who wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at each of the one-month, three-month and six-month follow-ups. (3)
Through practicing gratitude I’ve been able to rewire how I think. I’m able to focus on the positive aspects of the day instead of things that might annoy me. I’m far from perfect — anger at circumstances and people sometimes still gets the better of me — but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to.
Big to Small
That’s extreme gratitude at its best. It encourages you to focus on the good things. It forces you to rewire how you look at your life.
You have 5 to 10 impactful things that you can focus on each day. What you choose to focus on matters a lot. The more you can focus your thoughts on things that will help you grow and feel happier, the easier it gets to manage your emotions.
My grateful mindset has taken a lot of work, and my difficulties have only helped me be more successful. More successful in how I deal with my feelings and the success I’ve seen in my career. The former has done so much for my happiness and it’s why I work with clients around Emotional Intelligence. It’s going to be the biggest factor in your happiness and success.
I’m grateful for the pain, which encourages me to grow. I’m grateful for the good things too, but neither the lows or the highs push me around. Both extremes are interesting for what they are able to give me. It’s all perspective. You can be happy when terrible things happen and you can be happy when good things happen because just being alive is the true gift. Just being able to hug my wife, boys, drink a glass of water, post an update Twitter or Tik Tok, walk to the bathroom, use the bathroom, bite into a sandwich with five different flavors or 1000 other amazing daily things. Don’t get me wrong, I often forget this important lesson too. I get grumpy and get lost in my grumpiness for a bit then when I catch myself feeling this way I just turn back to gratitude and I’m able level out my emotions.
Most people try to make improvements in their lives because they want to change the big things. Then they end up giving up because they didn’t put in the daily work to make a positive habit possible. They want a different relationship or a new career, but they see it as a mountain of work and don’t know where to start.
The best way to bring back the joy into your life is if you start with the small things. That’s why a gratitude practice works so well. You start appreciating the small things every single day. You write them down and keep doing it. The more you practice, the better you get at it. What eventually starts to happen is your first instinct of complaining or worrying slowly releases its grip on you. I know most people won’t start a gratitude journal after reading this article because they aren’t ready.
So before you start journaling your gratitude, just try being grateful while you brush your teeth. Keep your gratitude practice simple. Do this for 30 days. You can be grateful for the things around you, yourself, your friends, God. Whatever you want to focus on. Don’t worry about your upcoming exam, meeting or what you’ll do during the weekend. Focus on how good you have it while you brush your teeth. Just do this for only seven days and I know it will change your life. Start today and if you do it for seven days and it doesn’t start to change how you view life and make you just a little happier I’ll give you a free Deep Dive session with me. I only do two a month, so please be patient. Just message me and let me know that you did the challenge for 7 straight days and what you learned from it. You can email me (if you are in my email community then just hit reply on your email), post a comment, DM me on Twitter @kstaib, or LinkedIn and let me know that you are doing the Toothbrush Seven Day Challenge and I’ll support you as you go along. This offer ends at the end of February.
1. For more on what best motivates us, see E. L. Deci’s book Why We Do What We Do (New York: Penguin, 1996).
2. Burton, Chad, and King, Laura. “The Health Benefits of Writing About Intensely Positive Experiences.” Journal of Research in Personality 38, no. 2 (March/April 2004): 150-163.
3. Seligman, M.E.P., T.A. Steen, N. Park, and C. Peterson. “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions.” American Psychologist 60, no. 5 (July/August 2005): 410-421.