In Thank You Power: Making The Science of Gratitude Work For You, two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist and Inside Edition anchor Deborah Norville argues that gratitude is the secret to unlocking one's full life potential. In this excerpt of Thank You Power, Norville asks all of us, "What do you stand for?"
This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Thomas Nelson, Inc.
The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear. --Socrates
If you were a product, what words would be used by your promoters to market you? They call them taglines in advertising: quick, pithy words or phrases that sum up the product or service in less than a sound bite. Some still resonate years after they've been put to bed. "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" was exactly what 1970s TV watchers said before plopping a couple of Alka-Seltzers into a glass of water. In the same decade, "You've come a long way, baby" sold Virginia Slims cigarettes and feminized smoking. More recently, Nike's "Just Do It" urged people to start moving, and to wear Nike sneakers as they did. Dodge trucks urged consumers to "grab life by the horns," a tagline that communicated boldness, adventure, and ruggedness--all qualities the typical truck buyer would presumably see in himself.
Sometimes the taglines change because the business has evolved. General Electric, which for years said, "We bring good things to life" has recently retired that line in favor of "imagination at work," underscoring the brainpower that runs throughout GE's disparate businesses.
Your tagline is more than just an advertising slogan. It is shorthand for the motto by which you live, a bumper sticker that guides you forward. A big rig may have a sticker that tells you, "I brake at railroad crossings." Try to boil it down to one single phrase and you'll start pulling your hair out. You'll also understand why those advertising people make so much money. Those short, clever lines are harder to come up with than you'd think!
Among my bumper stickers is "Moving On"--meaning I try to just keep one foot in front of the other, moving forward in my life's journey. Many days I hear, "This, Too, Shall Pass"--words that my late mother often said to remind me that whatever it is, it won't last. And I often find myself mentally asking, Where's the Thank You Power?--a reminder to look for the blessings in every situation because they are there.
But my personal tagline is "Here to Make a Difference." I have never for a moment believed that life was just a series of days, and then you die. I believe we were meant to experience as much as we have the opportunity to, and to have meaningful connections with the people around us. I think that when we leave this earth, something about it should be better for our having been here.
There are so many ways to make that difference, which is really what Thank You Power is all about. Doing something for someone else makes both of you feel good. The broaden-and-build aspect of feeling good makes you more adventurous and more inclined to try the new things that make life invigorating. The new experiences give you memories that, when recalled, lift you up even more.1 It's an upward spiral that all starts with Thank You Power.
Professor Alice Isen, the Cornell psychologist who researched what happens when people feel good, says that Thank You Power makes you stronger. "You are a stronger person and more resilient to negative forces," she says. "People are more likely to do what they want to do when they are in positive affect." She says it's conceivable that people with self-esteem issues might become more assertive if they put Thank You Power to work.2 For example, focusing on that one happy moment can help a child perform better on a test.
I know the changes that I've made in my own life since I started following that hunch that hit me. If I really am "Here to Make a Difference," then Sal Morales is my proof that one can. His gratitude-infused outlook helped revive his television career. If Sal had a tagline, I think it would be "I have value." Over the last several months, Sal has allowed himself to reconnect with all those fine qualities he'd forgotten he had. Take a peek at another e-mail message he just sent to me:
I have learned that what I have is called talent, that it is truly a gift. I have learned that if given the opportunity, I can produce positive results in any aspect. I am good at what I do. I am a good person, I don't hurt others, I am fun, and energetic, a good brother, son, nephew, cousin, uncle. I didn't know that.3
As you read those incredibly uplifting words, can you believe they were written by a man who just lost his job--again? That's right. I was almost as stunned as Sal to learn that budget cutbacks at the station had meant the dismantling of Sal's department. It is so sad when you think about it. Sal says in just eight short months, the "little station that could" earned eighteen Emmy nominations, including that very special nomination that had Sal Morales's name on it.4 Yet Sal isn't mourning. The difference between the way he's handled this job setback compared to the one before is like night and day. Someone who saw Sal the other day described him as happy, content, assertive, and animated. Hardly the description of a defeated individual.
What's different this time? He says, "Life, I have learned, is nothing more than a series of events or chapters. And the chapter I wrote last year was with God's pen, so to speak." Sal says, rereading that chapter, he sees how much he learned and how much he has to offer the next station lucky enough (my words, not Sal's!) to get him. Thank You Power helped bring Sal Morales back from a very dark place to a life of optimism and joy, even during rough spots like this.
Thank You Power and--Sal suspects--something else. "Some force, God, Jesus? I really don't know," he muses. "Something out there did lead me back. And from it," he concludes, "I got a sense of self."5
But what about the people manning the front lines of Thank You Power, the men and women who've spent years studying gratitude and positive emotion? Has the study of Thank You Power meant anything outside the research lab? Not surprisingly, the answer is yes.
Robert Emmons, the University of California-Davis professor who coauthored that groundbreaking catalog of the benefits of daily gratitude, says that practicing what he's studied has made a huge impact in his own life. "I came more from the side of the whining, complaining group. You know, the people who have a sense of entitlement or deservingness. I think gratitude has helped me shift my own frame of reference. It has really made a difference in my life."6 The man who wanted to see from a scientific perspective if "we could make people more grateful" has become more grateful himself.
Chris Peterson, whose work in the field has helped identify gratitude as one of the most fulfilling of all the character strengths he helped categorize, says, "I am more mindful of what is positive in other people. I am still struggling with what's positive in myself. I suppose I am one of those 'hardworking, never-quite-good-enough' kinds of people. I think people who achieve are like that."
But Peterson has seen a difference in himself that he says other people have actually commented on. "I am much more overtly kind to people," he shares. "I was never a mean person, but I had a relatively sharp tongue. I don't at all anymore! I just say a lot of 'please' and 'thank you.' It's like I went back to kindergarten," he concludes with a laugh.
"Do you like yourself better?" I quizzed.
"Absolutely," he answered emphatically, with a chuckle. "It's more fun to get along with people. Why does it take so long to figure that out?"
Jon Haidt, who has studied elevation, that good feeling the rest of us get from hearing about good things done for someone else, says he's been changed by his work. "I took the strengths test [developed by Chris Peterson and his colleagues] and found that gratitude is one of my weakest points. My wife is one of the most grateful people, and even though I didn't think I was ungrateful, I learned I wasn't particularly grateful. So now I make more of an effort to express my thanks. I make a bit more of an effort to express my appreciation."8
Philip Watkins at Eastern Washington University had a similar discovery. "One of the consequences of studying gratitude," he told me, "is learning how really ungrateful I am! When I look at what I have in my life, I should be more grateful and complain a lot less."
The realization forced a change in Dr. Watkins's life. "I think studying gratitude helps me notice the simple pleasures in my life. I am better at noticing them. Other than my religious activities, which encourage me to regularly take stock, I don't regularly sit down and count my blessings. I tend to do it more naturally, though I don't disparage an exercise of doing this."9
Barbara Fredrickson, broadening and building her repertoire of Thank You Power says, "It changes the way you look at the world." She explains, "One key piece of gratitude is that it basically has the potential to change everything from its ordinary state to being a gift. Once you see it as a gift, it changes the emotional connection to it."
Fredrickson says the longer she works in this field, the more amazed she is by the power of thank you. "I think I've become more stunned over the years. I have more of a sense of awe than when you first get to the tip of the iceberg and you don't really know where it's going to lead. Now I look and see this larger stream of evidence of how this works in these different ways, and it's, like, wow!"10
The wow factor is what's kept Alice Isen going for all these years too. "I am happy to have discovered something that is true, first of all," she says, choosing her words carefully. "I feel happy to be able to tell people to enjoy happiness, to show the benefits of it. I am especially happy if I can point out to people how beneficial small things can be in their lives, how beneficial small, positive events in their lives can be to their thinking, to their interpersonal relationships, to their way of being in the world."11
I can relate. It is awe-inspiring to see someone put Thank You Power to work. You've seen how it has worked both in the research labs and in real life. There is still one place yet to apply it: your own life. Give it a shot. After trying Thank You Power, I suspect that you, too, will find yourself saying thank you.