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Gratitude – The Secret to Getting Back Up©

By on November 4, 2007 – 11:40 pm  20 Comments

David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.

Floyd Patterson, a heavyweight boxing legend and Hall-of-Famer, once said, “They said I was the fighter who got knocked down the most, but I also got up the most.” Patterson found a way to get back up each time. This is the mark of a good leader, and a successful person. You get up after you get smacked.

   Keep getting up again

All success stories involve knock down after knock down. The question is, why do some people have the courage and confidence to get up while many others stay down. Let me tell you how I learned the secret.

Twelve years ago on a Friday afternoon in New York City something happened to me at work. It was one of those events that makes you want to run home, pull the blinds, get under the covers and put a pillow over your head.

As luck would have it, my mom was visiting me that weekend; she was waiting for me when I returned from work. Now I have a mom with a talent for finding out what’s bothering you; she’s like a “psychological MRI.” She gives you one hug, one look, and she knows what’s wrong with you. Mom also knows just what to say. This is what she said that night.

“When I was growing up in Maine, I was teased for being poor. The kids picked on me because we had an outhouse in our backyard. They laughed at me because I went to a one-room school house. They made fun of my mother because she warmed her feet in the oven on cold winter nights.

I know how it feels when people put you down. But I learned that the key to a better life is not to focus on what people say you don’t have, but to focus on what you do have.”

And that’s when Mom talked to me about the power of gratitude. She told me that if we think about what we’re grateful for when we’re overwhelmed, and when others are hurtful to us, we will always find the strength and courage to fight for the life we want to live. That’s the secret.

Greater Good Magazine, founded by Dacher Keltner, a California-Berkeley psychologist and highly regarded researcher, recently dedicated an entire issue to gratitude. The Summer 2007 issue is entitled, Building Gratitude.

Gratitude Researcher, Robert Emmons, author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, made the case by presenting convincing research in the lead article, Pay It Forward, that we should all increase our gratitude in life if want better relationships, better health, and increased happiness. Catherine Price, in her article Stumbling Toward Gratitude, took a personal approach to exploring the new evidence that gratitude has a positive influence on health and happiness. In the third article, Love, Honor, and Thank, researchers Jess Alberts and Angela Threthewey showed how important gratitude is to marital relationships, particularly when applied to expressing appreciation for completing household chores. And psychologist Jeffrey Froh shared his research on how middle-school students became happier and more connected socially when they increased their feelings of gratitude.

By the time you finish reading this issue of Greater Good, you will have no doubt that my mom was right: Increasing your gratitude is good for you and for the people around you. Gratitude changes your life for the better.

So when Sunday night came that weekend twelve years ago, I went for a walk around Manhattan’s lower east side. Mom had left three hours earlier to return to Milwaukee. And without Mom’s positive energy filling the world around me, I began to worry about work; I was focused again on what happened on Friday. And to be clear, I was feeling more than just the “Sunday Night Blues.” I was anxious. That’s when I thought of Mom and what she said, “Think about what you’re grateful for.”

So I stopped right there. I was on 20th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenue. I stood before a red brick elementary school. I backed up to it, leaned on the wall, looked up and did just what Mom told me to do. I said everything that I was grateful for. I can still remember the feeling that came next.

Almost immediately my heart stopped racing, my chest relaxed, and I took a deep breath. I looked up at the sky and felt as if the passing clouds were carrying my worries away. My worries no longer seemed important compared to the many things I was grateful for in my life. I felt relief like never before.

From that moment on I knew the power of gratitude and I have tapped into it every day over the last twelve years.

So the next time you take one on the chin, do as my mom says, “Think of everything that you are grateful for,” and like Floyd Patterson, you’ll get back up before the count of ten.


Greater Good Magazine, Summer 2007, Volume 4, Issue 1, Building Gratitude

Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.

Chicago Golden Gloves Boxing courtesy of Kate Gardiner


  • mikey says:

    Great article my Bro. I try and give gratitude every day and most certainly every morning. I would like to give my gratitude to you, David for this great reminder and guide for those still searching for a way to make sense of life and the bad things that can happen to us. Saying thanks is the way.

  • Chris says:

    Thanks David, for a great reminder of the power of gratitude. I try to start every day with a gratitude exercise – thinking of 3 specific things that I am thankful for. I’m not perfect at it. Some days I forget. I find that on the days that I do the exercise I have more energy and focus on what’s important in my life. I look forward to reading your post again next month!

  • LM says:

    Great article on the power of gratitude. I will be posting a link to it and your website. My website is .



  • Bobby A says:

    David, nice work once again! I continue to enjoy your insight and reminders about the important aspects of life. Great stuff – continue your great work – “thank you” for sharing your stories with us. Take care – Bobby A

  • Hi Mikey,

    Thanks Mikey as always for your support! And your summary says it all: “Saying thanks is the way.”

    Best to you,


  • Hi Chris,

    Thanks for sharing your experience tapping into gratitude every morning. You speak for all of us: we don’t always do what we know benefits us. But when we do, it make s a huge difference in our lives! Keep up the great work!

    Best to you,


  • Hi LM,

    Thanks for your post and support! I will make sure to visit your website. Let me know when you have linked the column.

    Best to you,


  • Hi BobbyA,

    Thanks for your comments each month; it’s always great to know that your work is connecting with good people doing good things.

    Have a great month!


  • Lillian says:

    What a great story David. Your Mom was a wise and insightful person. Thank you for passing on to us the benefits of practicing gratitude each and every day. Your stories inspire us and help us to face our daily challenges. Thank you.

    I’ll look forward to the next ones. Many thanks, Lillian

  • Hi Lillian,

    Thanks for your post! I don’t often think about “luck.” However, when I think about my mom (and Dad), I feel lucky that I was given the opportunity to be her son. And I am thankful she is here every day to love my wife Dawn and our little girls.

    Best to you,


  • […] To read the rest of this story on the happiness related topic of resilience – click here […]

  • tlg says:

    I think positive attitudes are always out there, It just takes someone away from our situation to look at what we are stressing over to realign our path to one with a brighter and cheerier journey.


  • Cari J. Lewis says:

    David – One aspect of your writing that I love the most (one among many!) is that your wisdom is home-grown and easily accessible. Who can’t stop and take a deep breath and count their blessings? I woke up this morning and I could see, hear, walk, talk and think. My husband and my children came to my bed and kissed me awake. We are all happy and healthy. My mother and sister, though far away, are the same – the list goes on. I am so blessed that my cup runneth over; yet, it takes a friend’s wise words to turn my downcast head from unhappy ruminations on the floor to the happy “stickers on my shoes.” We can’t see the forest because of the trees. Thanks for reminding me (and all your readers) to be grateful for our blessings!

  • Halle says:

    Great article! We should all listen to our mother’s more often, especially to yours, David. Thank you for all of your inspiring words!
    Halle Blessing

  • […] As any fan of this website would do, I turned to positive psychology for an answer. Gratitude is one of the most researched and most lauded strengths investigated by the field (e.g., Gratitude – The Secret to Getting Back Up, Taking Positive Psychology to Work: The Role of Gratitude, The Energy of Gratitude), and it has no better place in American culture than today; Thanksgiving is Gratitude Day! My set of Thanksgiving traditions, albeit cosy and harmless, was missing meaningful and personal gratitude. So this year I set out to establish a new Gratitude Day tradition: to compile a list of one hundred things I am sincerely grateful for within the past year. […]

  • Hi TLG,

    Thanks for the post! It is important to have people in our lives who can help us see the bigger picture (so we can see all the good and the potential in our lives in addition to the challenges). You make a great point!

    Best to you,

  • Hi Cari,

    What a great post! Your awareness of what’s good in your life is inspiring! And I can only imagine the positive energy you give to your family when you are connected to these thoughts and feelings of gratitude.

    And thanks for your support!

    Best to you,

  • Thanks Halle!

    My mother will be honored by your note…and so will all the other mothers who are doing their best to help their children be happy and successful!

    Best to you,


  • Irene says:

    Your mom is very smart! I am going to practice being grateful for what I have! That is so….GREAT!

  • Thank you so much, Irene! Great to hear from you. Stay in touch. And make sure to join me on my Facebook page:

    Keep focused on gratitude, and let the Garbage Trucks pass by.

    All the best,

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