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Executive Insider

Gratitude: The Key to Fulfillment

Eric Chasen

Confidence and humility are two sides of the same coin. You need to be strong enough to know when you need to ask for help. Far from being a weakness, humility can be a great strength. In fact, I would argue that humility is necessary. If we can get our egos out of the way, if we can summon the courage to seek help when we need it, we can take giant leaps forward. Confident people aren’t afraid to be humble.

I’d like to suggest another connection to humility: gratitude. We spend a lot of our time seeking ways to make our lives better and there is nothing at all inherently wrong with this. We all want better lives. We’re all motivated by the promise of a better tomorrow. It’s human nature to want to improve one’s lot in life. But at the same time, this pursuit often makes us look right past what we have today. We take our current lives for granted. We think we deserve better, and we most certainly do! But sometimes, that ambition can blind us to what we have, even taking us to a point where we find ourselves complaining and grumbling about how “bad” things are. Even when, relatively speaking, they aren’t.

But the humble person is the grateful person, grateful for what he has, and grateful for the opportunities that are before him to make his future even brighter. The non-humble person doesn’t feel this gratitude. One feels a sense of entitlement instead, as if the universe owes you more. This sense of entitlement typically translates to a feeling of disappointment with what you’ve been given in life thus far. Frequently, one even becomes disappointed with success because no matter how successful he becomes, it’s not enough. You feel that you need more. Not “wants,” mind you, but “needs.” This level of disappointment leads to frustration and the frustration leads to a state of continual unhappiness and a lack of feeling fulfilled.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami did a study where participants were asked to jot down a few sentences each week. One group was asked to write down things they were grateful for and another group was asked to write down things that irritated or annoyed them. Ten weeks later, it turned out that the first group was much more optimistic and positive about their lives than the second group. Just a short little daily exercise created a long-term change in their mental outlook. Surprisingly, this positive psychology even extended into their physical health, with the first group taking fewer trips to the doctor and generally reporting greater physical well-being

Many studies have replicated these results. Dozens, in fact. The connection is real. Grateful people are happier. Note that it’s not the other way around. It isn’t that these people are happy and, therefore, grateful. They’re grateful and, therefore, happy!

I’m not going to pretend that it’s an easy thing to be grateful all the time. In the course of our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to look past the good things we have. We get caught up in our work, we succumb to the stresses and pressures of our lives. We have bad days. Or weeks. We go through patches where it’s tough to be positive about anything. Patches where nothing we do seems to make a difference.

Gratitude can be aimed at life in general, where you’re grateful for the beautiful things we experience every day (sunsets, good health, chocolate-chip cookies—I’m sure you’ve got your own list) and gratitude can be aimed at the people in our lives. In your personal life, you cannot possibly thank enough those who are close to you, the people you love who collectively center you and provide an anchor for you. Your friends, your family, your significant other. Is there someone in your life you haven’t thanked lately? What are you waiting for! You’ll feel a lift in your spirits by doing so, and you’ll certainly lift their spirits, too.

Professionally, expressing gratitude, the right thing to do in and of itself, has a very practical side benefit. People appreciate humility and gratitude. If you’re thankful and openly grateful to the people who have helped you get where you are, they’ll reciprocate in kind. When we accomplish something, some part of us always wants to think we were smart enough, or resourceful enough, or worked hard enough to make it happen all by ourselves. Most of the time, that’s not the case, and deep down, we know it. Other people helped, and those other people need to be given credit.

Some people think it’s a sign of weakness to admit that they needed someone’s help to achieve this or accomplish that. On the contrary, it exudes power, grace, and maturity. It’s all part of a winner’s mindset, and it’s necessary to keep moving onward and upward. If nothing else, expressing gratitude simply makes a person more likeable, even admirable. Openly appreciating someone’s help is not a sign of weakness; it exudes power, grace, and maturity—part of a winner’s mindset.

Those with overinflated egos often forget the people who helped bring them success. Their lack of humility won’t allow it. You can become rich and famous and even have streets named after you, but you must never forget those who were there for you during your rise. Don’t allow those “streets” to be one-way! Gratitude is a two-way street. Be thankful for those who support you, and they’ll be thankful to you.

It’s an attitude. And if you don’t have it, resolve to acquire it. Adopting an attitude of humility and gratitude is not difficult. It needn’t be tied up in a complete personality makeover. Personalities can be hard to change, but attitudes are dynamic. Attitudes can change on a dime. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of reminding yourself on a daily basis to be grateful, to be humble, to thank someone who’s important to you.

A GReat ATTITUDE = GRATITUDE. And for the most part, it’s a matter of getting your ego out of the way. If you can do that, if you can be strong enough to be openly thankful for the help of others, to be grateful for what you have and the opportunities that are before you, to be humble enough to ask for help when you need it, you’ll not only have that winner’s mindset, you’ll find, like the people in the study I referenced above, that you’re happier. And I would go a step further: I’d say that you’ll find yourself more fulfilled, which is beyond even happiness.

In the end, the formula for fulfillment is a pretty simple one: Be humble, be grateful, be happy.

1. Emmons, Robert A., McCullough, Michael E., “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective WellBeing in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389
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Eric Chasen
Certified by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), Eric Chasen is a Resiliency Coach and Turnaround Expert. Early in his career, he suffered personal and professional setbacks that sunk him to the depths of despair. His amazing turnaround, comeback, and ultimate success propelled him into the world of coaching and mentoring. From Despair to Millionaire: Growing Beyond Hardship details his personal journey while outlining his secrets for success and for life. Eric Chasen is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.