- Remind clients and family businesses to give thanks for what they do have, not to regret what they don't have.
- Gratitude is a critical ingredient for strong families and family businesses.
- Strong gratitude can help a family business innovate, outperform the competition and persevere through difficult times.
- "Thou that hast given so much to me, give one thing more - a grateful heart." - George Herbert (1593-1633)
In Part 1 of this article series, we discussed how lack of gratitude is the single biggest obstacle to succession planning. Here, we'll explore how the philosophy of gratitude can help family businesses and the advisors who serve them.
German theologian, philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1258-1327) wrote, "If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is 'thank you,' that would suffice." According to author Angeles Arrien, "gratitude is a feeling that spontaneously emerges from within. However, it is not simply an emotional response; it is also a choice we make."
I have come to realize that gratitude arises from awareness, from conscious practice and from truly recognizing the good in our lives. Arrien proposes four universal portals to experience gratitude. They are:
- Blessings - recognizing the good in our lives
- Learnings - accumulating our experiences of growth and change
- Mercies - exhibiting kindness, compassion and forgiveness
- Protections - striving to safeguard ourselves and loved ones
These portals or pathways help one to recognize and express gratitude consciously. In his book, Thanks!, noted psychologist Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude research, notes that it is easy to lapse into a negative mindset: "Gratitude is the way the heart remembers kindnesses - cherished interactions with others, compassionate actions of strangers, surprise gifts, and everyday blessings."
This doesn't mean you have to become a spiritualist, contort yourself into a yoga position or meditate for hours. But it does mean that we must put gratitude into practice and intentionally develop more grateful thoughts.
How? By making gratitude a conscious choice, not an occasional incident. I practice gratitude by:
- Being conscious of being thankful often, every day
- Living in the moment to be part of (not just watching) what's around me
- Looking for a way to help someone else or "pay it forward"
- Serving and giving of myself and my time
- Repeating everything above to turn it into a habit
Living in gratitude adds tremendous benefit to our lives. It has been shown to enhance physical health by reducing stress and lowering anxiety. The old adage, "Laughter is the best medicine," turns out to be scientifically true!
Gratitude allows us to acknowledge our talents and gifts, to discover the purpose of our lives. In my own case (which is not unusual), gratitude helps provide the sense of purpose that supports or even causes a meaningful career.
Gratitude is a critical ingredient in strong relationships. In families, in friendships, in working relationships, gratitude is the glue that holds people and groups together. Teamwork, in my opinion, is a nonsentimental expression of gratitude.
Gratitude strengthens character because it turns us from wishing for what we don't have to appreciating what we do have. We focus on values, not hungers. We live in harmony rather than distraction. In fact, I would argue that living in gratitude makes one happier, healthier, more attractive to others, more inventive, more effective and more efficient in all aspects of our lives.
Within business families, gratitude is a secret ingredient that can raise a company above competitors, beyond the routine and through difficulty. It can be as easy as practicing (showing!) that you appreciate employees and working family members. But it must be practiced, not "performed," meaning it must come from the heart and represent real gratitude, not just a placating "Atta boy" (although the occasional, off-the-cuff genuine response is priceless).
Real-world case study
As I write this, I'm reminded of a wonderful client of mine who recently passed away. I'll call him Gratian, which is Latin for "grateful." Gratian began to work in his family's business when he was quite young and just after his own father had died. Gratian provided the leadership to help his uncles and brothers transform the company. Eventually Gratian bought out his relatives and transferred the business to his two adult children. Through all of these transitions there could have been chaos, disappointment, disagreement and discord. Instead, because of Gratian's honesty, integrity and loyalty - his gratitude - the family never wavered and the company never faltered.
But, in looking back, what I marvel at the most is that Gratian taught himself to be grateful; he "wasted" work time to meditate or pray. Each day he took a break from his busy schedule for a personal moment in his office. He was counting his blessings and appreciating his family. And that made all the difference.
In my own life, much of who I became can be attributed to the generosity of Bishop Gerald O'Keefe, the former pastor at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Bishop O'Keefe recognized that I was a struggling inner-city kid who needed financial help for my tuition at the University of Minnesota. He gave me that assistance and said, "You don't have to pay the money back, but if you are ever in a position to help someone, I hope you will do so." His generosity caused me to dedicate my life to serving and helping others. His influence produced my passion so that I continually recognize and live in gratitude. It was the bishop's gift to me, and one I alertly pay forward.
The Big Book for Alcoholics Anonymous says on page 451:
IF I FOCUS ON THE PROBLEM, THE PROBLEM INCREASES.
AND IF I FOCUS ON THE ANSWER, THE ANSWER INCREASES.
I encourage you to accrue your own gratitude inventory. Take a moment each day to individually thank in your mind the people whom you love and who love you: your spouse, your parents, each of your children, a great friend, a close work associate, a partner, a person who altered your life. These brief moments accumulate into a sense of gratitude that you will learn to express, that will grow and become as natural as breathing. It fills your life with thankfulness for what you have, unconcerned with what you don't have.
Here are some resources about gratitude that have inspired me:
- Choosing Gratitude: Learning to Love the Life You Have by James A. Autry
- Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life by Angeles Arrien
- Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert A. Emma's
If you feel you don't have the time or inclination to read, watch this six-minute YouTube segment featuring UC Davis professor of psychology Robert Emmons.
Find out more by visiting his Emmons Lab here.
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