Growing up in a Christian household, we were used to the formality of saying grace and regular prayer and giving thanks.
However, I suppose it never really took in a deeper level. If it had, I would have been less of an entitled kid or even a young man. Being grateful – truly grateful – demands a little bit more rigour than just going through the motions.
The first time I experienced this was with the American ritual of Thanksgiving, now 12 years ago. The ritual of going around the table and saying thanks – truly saying thanks, and putting thought into it – was a deeply connecting and rewarding experience for me.
It was also a once-off. I’m not American so celebrating the ritual was not an annual event, life got tricky for a while with losses and changes, rituals of saying grace and prayer were not regular features in my life...yeah, life happened.
But then there’s science.
Four years ago I re-engaged, after a break of more than a decade, in some learning. Not the learning of building a business or figuring out systems or taking hits and then taking the lesson...no, the intentional learning that comes from knowing you don’t know enough, and that it’s time to get curious again.
There were a few reasons for this. I lost my dog, the passing of my father shook me deeply, I met Caroline, and I was struck at how grateful I should be that she had come into my life... and my business went through large and painful changes, and I found I was wanting as a leader.
Books, podcasts, audiobooks, courses, seminars... I consumed with vigour. I read up about self-leadership, I did courses on teaching, speaking, training and writing. I attended workshops and filled out worksheets. I journaled, meditated, read and listened. And somewhere along the way, the SCIENCE of Gratitude became a big part of it.
The SCIENCE dictates that what you put in is what you get out. It’s not only every major world religion and major ideology that supports this. Pure physics dictates that an action produces a counter-reaction. So the question is: What will the intentional action be?
If you approach people/situations/problems/challenges/gifts/obstacles with gratitude in your heart, your focus shifts. Your ability to deal is influenced by your lens. Your capacity to be thankful is elevated by your foundation. Your perspective shifts to encompass the whole picture, not just some of it.
Shoshin is the Japanese word for a beginner’s mindset. I do feel that you can’t be curious and angry at the same time. And you can go a long way to dispelling anger by replacing it with gratitude.
About to have a tough conversation with someone who challenges you? Be grateful for the opportunity to grow and learn.
Been given a gift by someone you love that feels thoughtless? Be grateful that they care enough to give you a gift at all!
Feeling unappreciated and ignored? Express some gratitude for that person, you might be delighted with the results.
These days, I start every day with a check-in of personal gratitude in my journal. And, if the kids don’t come jump on us first, a one-on-one gratitude check-in with my wife. It’s a great way to start and frame the day, along with a cappuccino.
The gratitude needs to be thoughtful, though. You need to put your shoulder into it a bit. That’s when the real magic happens, I find.
This morning, we checked in on gratitude for her father. He passed in the night, finally at peace after a long and debilitating struggle with illness.
I’m grateful he could meet his grandsons, and that despite mobility issues we could all go to Newlands to watch the rugby for the last time.
I’m grateful for the first time I met him, a sunny day over a hot barbeque. He was warm and welcoming, and I immediately felt at home in Caroline’s family.
I’m grateful for the way he raised his children and loved his grandchildren, and I’m grateful for the gift of my family, which would not have been possible without him.
Rest in peace, Drew Bayly. You did well.