Gratitude is the single most powerful tool you have for transforming your life. How do I start? What do I do? Well the answer isn’t simple. Gratitude doesn’t just enter your life in one jolt. It isn’t a switch you can turn on. It has to be cultivated slowly over time, the seeds you plant right now might not come to fruition for years. Don’t think of gratitude as an instant solution, think of it as a way of life. Gratitude isn’t a single step, it’s the journey of a lifetime. Along this journey you will have allies and obstacles, you will have successes and failures. Gratitude means deeper connection to your experiences but it also means learning to view your life with detachment. To take distance from failure and crisis and experience gratitude for the good in those situations, even if that good is simply that facing adversity makes you stronger.
Altruism is the practice of unselfish action on behalf of others with no expectation of return. When we take time from our day and our business to encourage or appreciate someone, it costs us absolutely nothing. Even though the practice of altruism, of gratitude, means acting without the expectation of return, there are returns. The most important rewards for our entire society come from gratitude. If you encourage and appreciate your daughter’s music practice today, even if she is unskilled, she may grow up to be a concert pianist and write beautiful music. If you run a business and encourage your employees by consistently recognizing their good work, they will produce more of it, their standard of achievement will grow in proportion to your gratitude.
Frank Capra’s masterpiece, It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, a man characterized by his altruism. To save his younger brother who had fallen through the ice, George sacrifices his hearing. To keep others from losing their homes, George sacrifices his education and career to become a Building and Loan manager. When the Building and Loan association collapses, George uses the $2,000 he had set aside for his honeymoon to stabilize it. When a major deposit for the Building and Loan goes missing, George is accused of defrauding the bank. He feels that he’s lost everything, and he’s failed in every respect. Despondent, he attempts suicide, but is interrupted by an angel, who shows him the true meaning of his life. George’s sacrifices were not in vain; he always acted altruistically, and if he had never existed it would have destroyed the lives of many people he supported. Yes, George could have achieved more on his own, but his choices meant that his life was no longer about just him. Everyone around him had a vested interest in him because of his altruism.
Imagine you were in a room with everyone you come into contact with on a daily basis, your friends, your family, your co-workers, your employees and associates. How would it feel to leave that room? Will people notice? If George Bailey left a room, it would matter to everyone. The practice of gratitude, the attitude of altruism, may not yield instantaneous benefits, but it means that you will matter to everyone around you. As you increase your gratitude for others, you will feel the gratitude of others increase exponentially. By living through gratitude you will see great things unfold.