Benjamin Franklin was a relentless innovator; a mechanical engineer with an incredible knack for refining systems by making small changes which led to exponential impact.
In Colonial America, houses were heated by fireplaces set into the wall. In order to survive the brutal New England winters, colonists huddled around their fireplaces to keep warm. Franklin realized that the same energy could heat the entire house if the position of the fireplace could be changed.
The Franklin stove is a cast iron stove which is placed in the center of the house and uses baffles to direct the airflow, and draw off the smoke. No smoke enters the room and burning the exact same amount of fuel warms the entire house.
Franklin applied his ingenuity to other feats of engineering, such as the creation of bifocals, and in the observation of natural phenomena. His perceptive insights into the nature of electricity refuted superstitions of his day.
In the 1700’s, the best science held that electricity was two forces, and that the plasma phenomena, such as lightning bolts, were actually a collision of those forces. Franklin’s observation and insight led him to believe that electricity was a single force that flowed from a positive to a negative pole. His writing created the contextual language for the electrical age by dismantling the superstition.
He applied his inventive mind first to city projects in Philadelphia, and then to national and international politics. When he walked along the streets of Philadelphia, he constantly asked himself, “What can I do to contribute? How can I make things better?”
These questions might lead him to examine the sewer system, or to look at the plan of the streets. These questions led him to ask everyone he met what their jobs were, what their challenges were, and even if these challenges seemed like they were none of his business, or the result of a situation beyond the scope of his control, he still asked, “How can I improve this situation?”
In city politics, and later in national and international politics, Franklin found that no matter how dire, overwhelming, or hopeless the situation seemed, he could always make some contribution, even if it was small. It wasn’t just Franklin’s intelligence that led him to contribute so much to the world, it was his outlook. It was his sense of gratitude.
He knew that he could positively contribute in some way to anything. He knew that faced with an overwhelming problem, and despite his own negative feelings, he could always do some good. His practice of gratitude gave him an unsinkable positive attitude, and formed the platform for his creativity.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by a problem? Have you ever felt that you have nothing to contribute? Have you ever felt powerless?
Take a look at Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Schedule. He devoted the first three hours of his day, from 5:00 am to 8:00 am to: “Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness; contrive day’s business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study; and breakfast.” The Morning question he sought to answer:
“What good shall I do this day?”
Ben Franklin devoted three hours every morning to magnifying gratitude. This practice put his tasks in perspective and allowed him to define his personal mission in the face of complex problems and crisis. In the face of the Revolutionary War, he rose to the important task of the ambassador of the 13 colonies in France, and built important political alliances that helped win the Revolutionary War.
Whether looking around his house examining a pair of glasses or thinking about his fireplace, or as a revolutionary ambassador in Paris, the same question guided all of Benjamin Franklin’s actions:
“What good shall I do this day?”
And this question created Franklin’s viewpoint, an outlook of gratitude, which meant that he was never overwhelmed or powerless or isolated, that he always had something to contribute and that his life was connected to those around him.
Try keeping a daily journal. Write Benjamin Franklin’s question at the top of each day, “What good shall I do this day?” Contemplate this question from the first moment you wake up- Franklin devoted the first 3 hours of every day to this question- What answers do you have for your day’s tasks? How can you do good in every situation? This contemplation will change your outlook, even if you don’t have all the answers. Through gratitude, you will come to believe in your ability to create positive change in any situation.