The Gratitude Connection: Cultivating Gratitude in Yourself and the Many Others in Your Life

By Don Officer

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.

~ Brené Brown

For March 2021, we continue to gleam nuggets of wisdom from “The “Gratitude Project”.   A theme of “behavior changes are difficult – but worthwhile in moving to greater gratitude in our lives”.  Changing to a more grateful attitude takes discipline and work.  We are often “set in our ways” and old habits are difficult to break — even in pursuit of a better way.  Still, the 5 C’s & greater focus on the being more grateful can help break barriers, so that gratitude becomes a greater part of our natural character.  

Gratitude is most impactful when others see and hear it as intended and especially when it is unmistakably directed towards the person(s) addressed. Yet gratitude is only meaningful when it realizes an essentially personal impulse.  This holds true whether the feeling is deeply thought through or spur of the moment. Paradoxically, it is possible to feel gratitude intensely without anyone else knowing anything at all about the felt experience.

Granted, people vary and customs change. Even today, some still think it is in poor taste to be even slightly effusive about deep personal experience. A few generations back, etiquette demanded minimal expression of any but conventional feelings to avoid the appearance of boastfulness, disrespect or vulgarity. Given our social history, making the reader more aware of how he or she shows up, is a big reason to be grateful for the release of The Gratitude Project: How the Science of Thankfulness Can Rewire Our Brains for Resilience, Optimism, and the Greater Good.

In Parts 3 and 4, this book heralds an important shift. Persistence of the old-fashioned sense of decorum continues in some quarters even if it appears in disguise. However, keeping up appearances by understatement comes at a cost. If it’s gratitude you’re holding back, you risk being misunderstood in today’s world. To start, you also need to show up for all those others to whom you already owe a debt of gratitude. Silence about whoever you should recognize is surely the least appropriate response, whatever the risk of looking gushy or corny. Is it not less consequential to appear over the top than to quietly slip away in cold silence? Do we not sometimes forget we are actively social beings?

A positive shift in how we think about ourselves and others needs to be recognized. Remaining mute may reflect personality or naïveté, but sincerity in acknowledging others, showing why you are authentically grateful for who they are and what they do, should prompt in you the courage to show up and say so as Brené Brown urges. Jeremy Adam Smith also suggests we take that step. Gratitude won’t dissolve our problems, but ingratitude makes us the problem as we grope about for excuses. Instead, contemplate loss and death. Seriously. Life is short and forgetting to savor the moments or smell the roses by indulging a facile sense of entitlement forces us to miss a lot.

Still on loss, I’d recommend another title released just this year. Rabbi Steve Leder’s reflections on a career of coming to grips with death and dying, The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Gift confirms the lessons of The Gratitude Project. We think too much of things, forgetting life is about relationships and the precious people in them. Remarkably, and I have read, heard and seen this elsewhere too, the concerns of the dying are largely about those they leave behind, far more than what they themselves must soon face.

With the many pressures and crises of our times, we live in a maelstrom of distraction where we need important drivers to keep us focused on what matters. At this, gratitude is unequaled. True, forcing the feeling as researchers (including The Gratitude Project editors) have found, is counterproductive. Journaling and gratitude letter writing isn’t for everyone all the time.

For example, among couples and roommates or with other interdependent living arrangements, we see very different ways of looking at household or other relationship responsibilities.

Different individuals have different housekeeping tolerance thresholds. How often must the home be vacuumed or tidied? How is the shared budget set? Presuming basic agreement on arrangements, how motivated are all the partners to do their share? What, as one researcher asks, is the “gratitude economy” of the underperformers or those who take up the slack either out of guilt or compulsion? Where does the resentment of the unevenly or unfairly tasked wind up?

In the complex forms of the communities we build, many imbalances drift into the range of wicked problems, that is, they become almost insoluble, at best barely manageable. Because of the self-serving expectations of “entitled” parties, communications are indifferently abandoned. Or never really begin. That’s why we need to develop the appreciation habit early. Even when as children or otherwise distracted we don’t really appreciate appreciation, learning to at least go through the motions is still a start. The sincerity can and will come later.

Without using those words, the authors discuss the fake it ‘til you make it approach in Chapter 15 which is a guide to walking children through developing emotional growth. It starts with our helping them realize various members and roles within the family constellation. When later they go off the path (as they will) early gratitude habits can kick in with the slightest of nudges. The same opportunities lie in reserve for adults facing the challenges they too will encounter.

Dave Snowden, a famous systems and complexity theorist reminded me only a few days ago that complexity slips into chaos when people are pressured to do what they do not want to do, often balking or underperforming. Instead, he suggests we look for positive attractors like curiosity, novelty or gratitude that might persuade the reluctant to engage proactively: at least for enough of the time to make a difference. We lead by showing up for others as Brené Brown dares us to.

Realistically though, as Rabbi Steve recounts in his book, change is hard for people even near the end of their days. Knowing this is permission to be compassionate without scorekeeping. For what would any alternative accomplish! By recognizing our gratitude in the act of talking to those we encounter, as The Gratitude Project’s editors and authors explain in multiple ways, and by staying where we can give priceless comfort. Rabbi Leder reminds us of our “greatest gift” in describing his own decades of grateful presence. Let your stories teach you.


What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection monthly and International Institute for Learning, Inc. Senior Vice President, Judith Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment will help you see the possibilities.