You’re going to find this column more personal than usual, because the subject is one I’ve been thinking about more and more.
I was reminded of it just recently, in fact, when my husband and I were on the way to the theater with some good friends of ours. Hobbling along beside one of the women, I began to grumble about my arthritis and various other aches and pains that have been plaguing me. My friend stopped and said, “Well, what doesn’t hurt?”
After a moment I said, “My head and my heart.”
She smiled. I felt immediately better, and we resumed our progress toward the theater.
What doesn’t hurt? Our state of mind is all about where we put our attention, isn’t it?
Many of us come home from a long, tiring workday, complaining about an unhelpful colleague or an unreasonable client. Unaware that this dark cloud of discontent taints the atmosphere around us, we carry it into other aspects of our lives. To be honest, we’re not much fun to be with.
Let me tell you another story. This one may make you smile. A long time ago I was dating a guy I really liked, but something wasn’t working. Finally he admitted to me that my criticisms really bothered him. That stung, because I grew up with a supercritical mother myself. After thinking about the truth of his complaint at a spirituality conference I was attending, I decided it was high time to walk my talk. So I called him from the conference, apologized, and said I would make a three-month commitment to focus only on what he did right, not on things that bothered me.
He thanked me. And when I came home that night, the moment he opened the door I could see that he looked different, like he felt safer.
I kept my promise, difficult though it sometimes was. The positive effect of my emphasis on gratitude and appreciation completely transformed our relationship. With the 29th anniversary of my marriage to this wonderful man now coming up, I truly believe that gratitude is the yeast that has enabled love and trust to grow and endure between us.
Dare to Be Grateful
There’s a sizable gratitude gap in this country. According to writer and TV producer Janice Kaplan, who oversaw a 2012 national survey on gratitude for the John Templeton Foundation, many Americans feel grateful and think that gratitude is important, but fewer than 50% of them express gratitude on a regular basis.
Why is this? And what might happen if we changed our reticence and expressed appreciation more often? After Kaplan’s involvement with the survey, she made a commitment of her own to spend a year living more gratefully in different aspects of her life. In 2015, she wrote “The Gratitude Diaries” (now in paperback), a book I love that became a best seller. I contacted her to get her thoughts on how expressing gratitude might alter a financial advisor’s life.
“Everybody is going to feel better about themselves and be happier if they feel grateful,” Kaplan said.
Everybody? What about people who, to all appearances, don’t have much to be grateful for?
“Gratitude doesn’t depend on good things happening,” Kaplan said. “You can always try to reframe a difficult situation, so instead of focusing on the bad you look for something positive.” In her book she quotes the Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, who taught gratitude for years, as saying, “It’s not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratitude that makes us happy.”
As an advisor, you may deal with unhappy clients whose portfolio has lost value, whose child has been stricken by illness, whose spouse has asked for a divorce. It’s not sensitive or useful to push them toward looking for silver linings right off the bat.