FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
I'm writing this on deadline the Monday before Thanksgiving. We're headed into the holiday of gluttony and racing toward the holiday of greed.
That's one way to look at the holidays.
I can also focus on what I have to do before feeding a Thanksgiving crowd that will consume my efforts in 20 minutes:
- Frontally assault dust balls that could star in Japanese monster anime
- Vacuum watching for the dog who's MIA in the aforementioned dust balls
- Clean the bathrooms (don hazmat suit first)
- Grocery shop after taking out a third home mortgage
- Decorate throw the stuff laying around in closets 15 minutes before company arrives
- Scrub, dice, slice, mix, stir, bake, baste, carve, serve
- Provide a memorable ending to the celebration husband goes to bed before guests leave and I ask, "Who are you people and when are you going home?"
In between I can listen to the news and dwell on:
- The tanking economy and its human casualties
- The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
- The ongoing threat of terrorism
- The spiraling commercialism of Christmas
- What kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit
Most of us are beleaguered by many of the same things. Add to these lists work place frustrations like:
- Out of touch management and supervisors
- Officers with a sense of entitlement
- Communities whose view of police work is what they see on TV
How can we not only keep from drowning, but rise out of the water, nod "Yes!" and laughingly dash with our hair? (Acknowledging Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, stanza 46)
The Power of Gratitude
The world's philosophies and religions have long valued gratitude. But science has only recently begun to shed light on its benefits.
Highlights from research projects on gratitude have shown:
- Subjects who kept weekly gratitude journals exercised more, reported fewer symptoms, felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week than those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.
- Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to make progress toward important personal goals academic, interpersonal and health over than a control group.
- Daily self-guided gratitude exercises with young adults produced higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a groups that focused on hassles or ways that participants thought they were better off than others.
- Participants in the daily gratitude study were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another.
- In a study of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater positive energy, a greater feeling of connectedness to others, more optimistic ratings of their lives, and better sleep duration and quality.
- Kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.
Which kind of officer would you rather be? Which kind of leader would you rather be? It's a choice.
Gratitude is not ...
Gratitude is not about being a Pollyanna oblivious to life's hard realities. Not every cloud has a silver lining. Some just rain, blow and break your heart.
Gratitude is about finding things, even in the worst of times, to be grateful for. Like Eva. When I gave blood right after September 11th, I learned Eva was on her way to donating 50 gallons of blood. On a schedule of donating as often as you can, that's a quarter of a century of giving a pint at a time. I did a radio story about her.
I stayed in touch with Eva after the story aired. Just before she reached her 50-gallon goal, Eva was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In our last conversation, she apologized for having to break our lunch date she couldn't eat real food anymore. She told me her grown children and grandchildren were all traveling to be by her side.
"It must be so hard and sad," I said.
"Yes," she replied, "but it's also very precious."
In the midst of suffering and impending death, Eva found beauty and love for which she was thankful. And she made me try and be a better person. Eva's gratitude brought out the best in me. It was a profound lesson in leadership.
I didn't come up with the following tips. I found them on web sites at the end of this article. Now that science has weighed in, all kinds of people are discovering the benefits of gratitude.
- Gratitude by association. Spend time with grateful people. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, senior center or pediatric hospital. Meet uncomplaining people in dire straits who are thankful for what's important. Vow to stop complaining. Make a pact with friends and family to cut whining from your conversations.
- Teach your kids gratitude. Teach your kids we're not entitled to stuff just because. Help them be satisfied with non-material things. Do this by example. Make the non-complaining pact with your kids. Teach them to write meaningful "thank you" notes and to say "thank you" every day.
- Write gratitude letters, lists or journals.Reflect daily on the things and people you're grateful for. Write a note to someone you're especially grateful for a mentor, friend, parent, spouse, your children. Tell them how much you love them, why you're thankful for them, and how they've enriched your life.
- "Life is in the details." So said Thoreau. Be mindful of daily gifts you receive without earning or deserving them. Don't forget your senses taste, smell, hearing, sight, touch and all the treasures they bestow. Appreciate your legs, your lungs and heart, your muscles, bones and sinews.
- Keep gratitude reminders pictures of family, mementos from favorite hikes or trips. Gratitude comes with awareness.
- Vow to practice gratitude. Draw from religious or spiritual prayers of gratitude or make up your own. I am grateful for the lessons and the gifts in my life. Make it a daily affirmation. Commit to a group of people and make your intentions to practice gratitude public.
- Look for gratitude in strange places. Be grateful for your adversaries and irritants, for what they teach you about how you want to be.
Gratitude generates giving back
I've thought about some things I'm grateful for right now:
- My husband who offered to do the grocery shopping, vacuuming and take care of the turkey for Thanksgiving and who loves me with all my warts
- My parents their 60-year marriage and aging has taught me more about love and grace than I deserve
- The dog who on our morning walks runs and throws himself down on the frost covered grass, wriggling on his back, awash in canine joie de vivre. I can't help but smile.
And something happened. All the hassles became insignificant, even laughable. My heart opened wide and was filled with the desire to give back. Isn't that what leadership is about serving others?
Try it. I guarantee you can not be truly grateful and angry, cranky, pessimistic, down trodden or frazzled at the same time. Practice it and feel the changes in your life and your leadership.