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.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.
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