I am somewhat infamous in my family for having responded to my parent’s plea that I express gratitude to my favorite aunt and uncle for their gift one holiday morning with the line “Thank you for the yucky present.”
While I like to think I’ve come a long way since then :-), I had the opportunity to take a closer look at my attitude towards gratitude today when I participated in an amazing workshop led by Dr. Robert Holden, creator of The Happiness Project and the author of some of my favorite books about happiness and success.
During the workshop, he mentioned an exercise from his 8 Week “Be Happy” Event called “The Hundred Gratitudes”, which as you might imagine involves making a list of 100 things in your life that you are grateful for.
Thinking this would be a simple but uplifting exercise to do for myself, I began with some of the obvious ones – my family, my health, and my well-being. (In fairness, I wrote down each member of my family individually, leaving myself with only 93 to go!)
I then began to list some of the things I’ve learned over the years – the wonderful teachers I’ve met, coaches I’ve worked with, and skills I’ve learned and mastered. That took me to 22, so after putting in “God” at number 23 (and pondering whether or not that had any mystical significance), I moved on to some of the people in my life, past and present, that I am most grateful to know and have known.
Slots 31 – 35 were filled with tea, coffee and a few of my favorite foods; 36 – 39 were the sports I love to play and a couple I love to watch on TV. It was around 40 that I began to struggle.
My pets took up slots 41 – 44; by 45 I was listing a few of my favorite TV shows and wondering if I wouldn’t have been better off amending the exercise to one called “The Fifty Gratitudes” or perhaps not having taken it on at all.
But after a bit of reflection, I began to list some of the experiences I have had that I am most grateful for. While the good ones took me up to number 63, I was able to get all the way to 81 when I opened up to listing experiences that had seemed unpleasant, uncomfortable, and even unhappy at the time but which had become the source of some of my most treasured insights and learnings.
I was feeling quieter now, and 82 – 90 were an easy if somewhat eclectic flow, encompassing sunshine, snow, a play I saw at the age of nineteen on Broadway, my first girlfriend, the view from my bedroom window, and a dance my father did on the way up a mountain the first time I brought Nina home to meet my parents.
At this point I was feeling like I could have gone on forever, which is perhaps the point of the exercise. But I decided I wanted to make the last ten gratitudes particularly meaningful.
As I reviewed the first 90 items on my list, I realized to my surprise that the one category I had completely bypassed was any gratitude towards myself.
For most of us, publicly acknowledging our strengths, achievements, and positive qualities is one of the most awkward and embarassing things we are ever asked to do. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are rarely if ever asked to do it.
One of my favorite stories in this regard was told of a football player from the midwestern United States who was known for his modesty and humility. When he was called as a witness in a local civil trial, the player took the stand. After taking the oath “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God”, the player was asked a few preliminary questions…
“Are you a football player?”
“Yes sir, I am.”
“Are you any good?” The player paused and looked uncomfortably around the room.
“I’m amazing, sir. Probably the best in the country.”
Everyone in the room laughed.
After the trial, the local football coach told the player how surprised he was at his boastfulness.
“What could I do, coach?”, the player replied sadly. “I was under oath!”
When I was ready, I filled in slots 91 – 99 with some of the accomplishments for which I am most grateful, from a stonewall built at the age of fourteen to a book written at the age of forty.
I saved the 100th slot for one of my favorite pieces of writing from the ever-brilliant Marianne Williamson:
|“Our deepest fear is not that we are
Our deepest fear is that we are poweful
It’s our light, not our darkness, that most
frightens us.We ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually,
who are you not to be?
You are a child of the universe.
And as we let our own light shine,
1. Create your own list of 100 gratitudes. Allow yourself to take your time and spread the list throughout the day, or even the week. This is one exercise that will handsomely repay as much time as you are willing to spend.
2. Over the next few days or weeks, create other lists of 100 gratitudes – like 100 things you are grateful for about your partner, or your children, or your body, or the planet which we all share.
3. Consider sharing your list with someone in your life you care about.
Have fun, learn heaps, and thank you for creating the space into which I get to write these tips…