Gratitude: How Giving Thanks Can Build Success

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~ Thornton Wilder

Thank You

Image by Patrick Hoesly

This week I’m thinking about being thankful, and how I believe dwelling on it helps achieve success, both personal and in business – whether as an author, writer, or blogger. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the mountain you want to climb, perseverance, a little luck, and gratitude will help you gain the top.

Here’s why.

The word “gratitude” is tossed around by everybody nowadays, even in mainstream media. Volumes have been written about why we should give thanks for everything we have, from electricity to ATMs. Often, when we hear or read about appreciating our good fortune, we nod and agree, tick off a few good things that have happened lately, think “yeah, that’s cool,” and move on.

But if your cupboard is bare (or you think it is), it can be impossible to relate. An attitude of gratitude is easy when there’s a new BMW in the garage and lots of dough in the bank, right? Appreciating where you are and what you have is a cinch when where you are is Paradise and what you have is everything you’ve ever wanted.

It’s just that not many of us are in that place. So we have the right to gripe. It’s okay to grumble, complain, vent a little vent, dance a little poor-me-why-me dance. In the dark, with a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of Jack, a box of tissues, and appropriate sad music playing in the background.

Nobody’s dissing your right to throw a hissy fit
Just so we’re clear, venting is okay with me. No judgment. I’ve done it (often), and I bet you have, too. It makes us feel better (for a while) and it draws sympathy, and that’s always nice. People rally around, commiserate, share their own hard-luck stories and tell you how what you’re experiencing is sooooo much easier than what they went through. (Wait, what?)

Basically, what we all want is peace, stability, security, comfort, success of some sort, and loving companionship. Maybe a little acknowledgement, a little recognition. Here’s the thing: Complaining about why we don’t have these things will not draw them into our lives. Consistent grumbling won’t get us any closer to what we want.

Consistent gratitude will.

Gratitude is a vehicle
Why should you count your blessings when nothing about your life feels blessed? The short answer is because appreciation focuses your mind on the positive. It shifts your thoughts away from what you don’t have to what you do have – however limited those things may be, they’re there when you look for them. Being grateful for what’s working keeps you from dwelling on what’s not.

And that’s a good thing because you’ll be happier when you think mostly about good things. It’s logic. When you’re a happier person, you’re peaceful. Relatively drama-free. Receptive to opportunity. And that attitude opens the door for more of the same.

Gratitude is a vehicle, it’s a method. Appreciation is a tool you can use to create more. You can’t think about good stuff and feel bad. Positive and negative emotions are incompatible. You cannot be deeply grateful and unhappy at the same time.

The secret isn’t never to be down, it’s how long you let yourself wallow that counts. Dwelling on your GOOD fortune can help you shift – every time.

The more we have, the less we appreciate
Millions of people in the world don’t have electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, or a car, yet studies show they’re often happier overall than we are. How is that possible? Because we in the modern world take these things for granted. We choose to think more about what’s missing than the magic that is ours.

And that’s our choice. We choose how we feel, to a certain extent. We have the ability to give more power to one aspect of our life over another. We have the ability to focus on the mindset, “I don’t have enough,” or, “I am so frigging lucky.”

When was the last time you thought that thought?

Talk happy! Your success will grow, your relationships will improve
Feeling and sharing appreciation is free. The upside to your wellbeing and your relationships is tremendous. Gratitude can help you learn to live your life as if small things were a miracle. Being grateful will help you concentrate on what you have in the here-and-now. Giving thanks for what’s good on the one hand can help adjust your perspective about circumstances and conditions that can’t easily be changed, such as your stagnant career as an author. (Oh, no, wait – that’s me.)

Research backs this up: Giving thanks makes people happier and more resilient, it strengthens relationships, it improves health, and it reduces stress. And when you share it by sincerely praising and recognizing those who support you, it’ll come back to you.

Writing prompt/Exercise: Keep a journal filled with good stuff
Gratitude authority Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is author of the book, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. His work shows that keeping a daily gratitude diary increases alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy, and provides relief from depression and stress. Journaling is an effective way to help increase long-term happiness. And here’s another neat statistic: It can also increase our willingness to help others and improve our progress toward achieving personal goals.

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Image by Creative Commons License Patrick Hoesly

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18 Responses to Gratitude: How Giving Thanks Can Build Success

  1. Stephanie Faris November 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    So true. I’ve known SO many wealthy people who didn’t appreciate what they had. They lose complete touch with everyone outside of their social circle. And rich people are pretty boring! I think people have to look around and realize how lucky they are to have what they have NOW. Because whatever they’re dreaming about (winning the lottery, getting a novel published, retiring…) isn’t the answer. Even then, they’ll want something more. It’s never enough! You have to find ways to love what you have now. It’s a lot easier said than done.

    • Molly Greene November 25, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

      Thanks, Stephanie. We need to have our dreams and still find a way to be happy in the present – and yes, it is a challenge to do that!

  2. elaine pinkerton coleman November 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    As always, you’ve given us a wonderful post, Molly. This one hits the mark with me, as I’m currently basking in the joy of giving, feeling grateful for the success of a benefit reading I gave yesterday for a local organization, Youth Shelters. Just so happens that I was writing MY next post (in my head, as I always do – writing before writing), and the underlying theme is gratitude.
    My theme for this season is how to want what I have (rather than the other way around).
    You’ve shared so beautifully; I’m grateful for YOU!

    • Molly Greene November 25, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

      Thanks, Elaine! Congratulations and I’m thrilled for you. I’ll admit I don’t exactly want everything I have right now, but at the same time I’m okay with it. I don’t resent or “hate’ having it – and I look forward to what I’ll surely have in the future 🙂

  3. D.G.Kaye November 25, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Thanks for the kick in the butt reminder Molly!

  4. Belinda Pollard November 25, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    I knew an entrepreneur who had had a really tough life in many ways, including severe health problems, but managed to create a big company worth many millions. He still lived simply, and he still went to work, even though many people couldn’t understand why he wasn’t lying on a beach with a daiquiri instead and letting other people do the work, especially as he got older.

    When he finally retired and sold the company in his late 80s, did he buy a tropical island and wallow in luxury? No, he thought he might buy a little caravan to tow behind his 10-year-old car, and make a few road trips with his elderly wife. 😉

    When he left, he told his employees that no matter how hard things got, every day he would think of three things to be thankful for — a different set than the day before. And he was happy. Not because he was rich and successful in material terms, but because he was rich and successful spiritually. He was an inspiration.

    • Molly Greene November 26, 2013 at 11:24 am #

      Thanks so much for that, Belinda! “Things” are only satisfying for a while. It’s what we have inside that will carry us through.

  5. aman November 25, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    good post ! The beautiful thing about our participation in universal creation is that we are the creators of our own thoughts, and thus we shape the ever-changing creation that is our own life.

  6. Joy November 25, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Yes Molly, gratitude is the only way to go. I’ve kept a gratitude journal for years and when I feel down I read through what I’ve written over the years and surprisingly enough, I am always able to add to the list.

    • Molly Greene November 26, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Thanks, Joy! I’ve also kept gratitude journals since 2008. When I read back to the beginning now, it seems as though I was writing with gritted teeth, do you know what I mean? It took a while to get into the groove. Now I find I think about what I’m grateful for/about so much faster. Practice makes perfect.

  7. Elizabeth Ducie November 25, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    Good Morning Molly and thank you for reminding us to be grateful. One year ago, my house was flooded and our lives were turned upside down temporarily. At New Year someone said to me: let’s hope 2013 is a better year for you. I was about to agree but then remembered that 2012 might have finished a tad damp, but it was also the year I gave up the day job to write full-time; published 2 books, graduated with an MA, spent more than a month celebrating a significant birthday and did lots of other wonderful things as well. It’s too easy to let the bad overshadow the good. I started writing a ‘happy book’ on 1st January and filled pages before I got so wound up in everything else that I sort of forgot it! Perhaps I will pull it off the shelf to day, read it back and then write a bit more.

    • Molly Greene November 26, 2013 at 11:30 am #

      You make such a good point, Elizabeth, we do so often allow the bad to overshadow the good. Congrats on your magnificent accomplishments of 2012 (!!) and best to you in all you do going forward. Go find that book!

  8. Shirley Ford November 26, 2013 at 5:04 am #

    Thank you for this timely advice! I keep starting gratitude lists then they fall by the wayside. Perhaps I can make this a New Year’s resolution for 2014.

  9. Barry Knister November 26, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    I am new to your blog, and this is my first comment. Thank you for wise words about being grateful. You say, “the more we have, the less we appreciate.” This is a simple truth, but a profound one.
    My case in point is taken from the letters-to-the-editor page of the Naples (Florida) Daily News. Naples, as you may know, is one of the wealthiest communities in the state. It’s a retirement home for many highly successful people. But here’s the thing: a few days spent reading letters written to the paper by Neapolitans will reveal just how many ungrateful, angry people live in the town. Of course there are other folks as well, people who write in to thank or give praise. But to read letters every day full of so much irritation and petty hostility–written by those with so much to be grateful for–reveals just how true your statement is. For several years I lived during the winter in Naples. Finally, my wife and I decided the general mood had cancelled out the beautiful weather, and we left.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    • Molly Greene November 26, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks so much, Barry. I’ve been in Naples FL and I’m sad to hear the beauty of the place isn’t reflected in the residents – but I think you’re right, it’s often true that the character of a location is unique to the people who populate it. I do hope you’ve found a community you feel connected to, and I’m so glad you stopped by my blog! There’s some pretty cool people who hang out here! 🙂

  10. Laura Zera November 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    I often unlock the door to my house and think, “I am so grateful to have this little house.” It’s a pretty basic pad, 900 square feet, one tiny bathroom and completely lacking in closet space, but it’s warm and it’s dry and it keeps me safe. I love it.

    Your piece is so right on — an attitude of gratitude at the worst of times eventually just keeps you in that space. I wouldn’t say I’m all the way there, but I’ve had a pretty good shift in the last couple of years.

    Thanks, Molly, and happy holidays to you! xo

    • Molly Greene November 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

      Yaaay! I got a new bed a year ago and added one of those blue gel toppers from Costco. It’s so comfortable I feel like I’m sleeping on a cloud and now, every morning when I wake up, I think about how fortunate I am to be waking up in it, then move on to all the other things I’m grateful for. I just KNOW starting my day that way has positively affected everything else. Aren’t we lucky?! Happy holidays, Laura!