As leaders and entrepreneurs, we often mistake our success for an independent achievement. Sure, self-motivation, experience, and knowledge are crucial, but true success is not insular. Our friends, families, mentors, colleagues, clients, and even complete strangers all play important parts in shaping who we are.
Yet we often overlook this simple fact. Why? Not through rudeness, not exactly, but through a kind of naivety.
We’ve all been burnt in the past by people we trusted. It hurts; not just because of the deception or betrayal the act represented, but because society is built on the presumption of trust. No matter how often we’re reminded that the majority of people are driven by self interest, we expect that our trust will be honoured, especially in those close to us.
Those who are truly successful are the ones who shirk this expectation. They are the ones who don’t expect loyalty, but instead foster it by demonstrating their own ability to be faithful, kind, and loving.
They are the ones who show gratitude each and every day.
Gratitude is about taking stock of our present, in order to define our future in ways both big and small. No wonder then that it’s the unifying principle behind just about every inspirational, successful figure in recorded history, from Cicero (“gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others”) to Maya Angelou (“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.”).
Gratitude takes many forms. You might pen a hand-written note of thanks, or meditate on what is going well in your life. In truth, finding a way to express gratitude is the easy part. Doing it consistently, and effectively, is the hard part. But there is a way.
The concept of a gratitude journal is nothing new, but gained attention after Oprah Winfrey revealed that she had been keeping one for decades. In an article for the November 2012 issue of O, Oprah reflected on why she wasn’t as happy during the development of her network television channel as she had been while working on her own show. It wasn’t the scale of the work – sure, the days were harder, but Oprah thrived on that. No; the real reason was because she had stopped reflecting on the daily happy moments as she had made a habit of doing years prior.
“How had I, with all my options and opportunities, become one of those people who never have time to feel delight?
…I got so focused on the difficulty of the climb that I lost sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb. Only when I began feeling gratitude for the opportunity to serve a new audience in a new way did a shift happen.”
And it wasn’t just the major moments that brought joy back into Oprah’s life. The little things, when looked back on, had just as profound an impact.
This isn’t just rhetoric; studies have shown that ‘counting blessings’ results in both physical and psychological benefits. In, perhaps, the most famous of these – a paper entitled Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life – subjects who kept gratitude journals proved to be noticeably more optimistic and driven as a result.
If you plan on keeping a gratitude journal from now on, there is one condition: don’t overdo it. Simply going through the motions is inauthentic, and you won’t see results. Keep the list simple, focused, and honest. There’s also something to be said for only writing occasionally.
“We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says researcher Robert Emmons, who co-wrote Counting Blessings Versus Burdens. His findings reveal that often those who only wrote in their journal once a week were happier than those who penned an entry three or more times over the same period.
It’s a simple tool, and one that proves beneficial if given the same respect we must make an effort of showing to those who support us on our journey.