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Gratitude and Giving Will Lead to Your Success

written by David J. Pollay 2 June 2007

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.

Think of some of your life’s achievements.  It’s okay.  No one’s watching.  Go ahead.  What accomplishments make you proud of yourself?

Now think about how many of these life accomplishments did you achieve completely on your own?  Let me answer that question for you.  The answer is, “none.”  Our successes always come with help.

The real question is, “Can you name the people who were a part of each of your successes?”  Who are they and what did they do?  Write down their names.  Think about these people.   

Now, I’ll bet you’re feeling a bit or even a burst of gratitude.  You have just reminded yourself how important others have been to you in your life.  You have not traveled alone.  

Most of us feel some amount of stress when we think about what it will take to achieve our dreams.  We think, “How in the world are we going to get from here to where we hope to be?”  Luckily, the answer is, “not alone.”  Other people will help us.

    A bird saying thanks?

So what’s the best way to achieve your life goals?  Here’s the first answer.  Look to the people who have already helped you.  Thank each one personally and privately.  Tell them why they are important to you and how they helped you succeed in the past.  Let these people know how valuable they are to you.  If you feel that you’ve thanked someone before, consider doing it again in an even more meaningful way.  Keep these people in your corner.  University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson wrote in his book, A Primer in Positive Psychology, “In our experience with many dozens of gratitude letters…they ‘work’ 100% of the time in the sense that the recipient is moved, often to tears, and the sender is gratified as well.”

Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons recently reviewed the growing evidence that feelings of gratitude improve the quality of our lives.  In one study he found that people who “wrote up to five things for which they were grateful or thankful” on a weekly basis “exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week.”  Positive Psychology co-founder Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleagues also discovered that when people took a few minutes each evening to write down “three good things” that happened to them during the day, their happiness increased and their depressive symptoms decreased.

Emmons found in another study that people who feel gratitude are more likely to help others.  Emmons wrote, “Gratitude leads not only to feeling good, but also to doing good.”

So what’s the best way to achieve your life goals?  Here’s the second answer.  Think about who else could help you.  Through a lens of gratitude, think about how you could repay them in advance for their support.  What could you do for them now?  How could you help them in some way?  Your commitment to helping them will demonstrate two things:  You care about what they care about, and you appreciate the role they could play in your life. 

You will stand out as a giver, and leave the takers of the world standing in line.  Your new contacts will be grateful to you.  And we know what happens when people feel gratitude.

Gratitude and giving will lead to your success. 


Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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

Bird saying thanks for food? courtesy of __Yoshi__

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Chris 5 June 2007 - 4:35 pm


Another great post. I have experienced firsthand the power of the gratitude letter. What I hadn’t given much thought to until I just read it is seeing people through a lens of gratitude for what they might do for me in the future, and helping them in advance! That is a far more positive way to think about relationships than “quid pro quo” or “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” can have such negative connotations.


David J. Pollay 5 June 2007 - 10:24 pm

Hi Ellen,

Thanks for including me in your list of articles from 100 sites. I can see you have included some very thought-provoking articles from a number of blogs.

Thanks for reading Positive Psychology Daily News too!



David J. Pollay 5 June 2007 - 10:35 pm

Hi Chris,

Thanks Chris for the post! It is a lot more fun to build a relationship from a giving perspective, than from a taking perspective. And it is important to remind ourselves that it is also more effective with customers and business colleagues.

Best to you,


Wesley 6 June 2007 - 12:27 am

Do unto others…

David J. Pollay 9 June 2007 - 10:36 am

Yes Wesley (and thanks also for your thoughtful email).

And even better – do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

Best, David

Bobby A 11 June 2007 - 6:01 pm

Excellent article! I started a business in my garage back in 1995….and I’m still around to tell you about it! I can’t begin to tell you how powerful your message is. As my dad always told me, “no man is an island”…..I could not have survived this long without the help of many people along the way. “Gratitude” is an important part of my personal success and happiness! Keep up the great work with your articles….I enjoy the energy and passion you share with others.

I couldn’t sign off without saying “Thank You”….to show you my gratitude!

David J. Pollay 11 June 2007 - 10:52 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the post! Your Dad is a wise man. And congrats on the growth of your business. Your experience is a great example of how relevant and powerful gratitude is in business.

And thanks for the good words about the columns; I appreciate your support.



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