Matthew McConaughey picked up the Oscar for Best Actor on Sunday; Mark Zuckerberg made a $19 billion purchase very recently. Mr. McConaughey depicts people in movies; Zuckerberg is depicted. McConaughey is tan and Zeus-like, with an irresistible grin, gait, and drawl; Zuck is pale, speaks in code, and is notoriously awkward. At first glance, these two men don't have much in common apart from newsworthy credentials, and impressive acquisitions in 2014. But they share one most important quality: they are both grateful.
Matthew McConaughey was obliged to give an acceptance speech on Sunday -- he thanked the Academy, thanked his family and a few others, but most notably he thanked God for showing him "that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates." He gave thanks for his ability to thank.
After the show McConaughey talked some more about gratitude. He told the story of how his mother used to scold him if he came down to breakfast in a bad mood; she'd say: 'Don't you come back to my breakfast table where I cooked you breakfast and see the dust on the table instead of the rose in the vase, buddy." He has been smelling the roses ever since.
In his speech, McConaughey references the recent scientific research about the power of gratitude -- but he really seems to genuinely know something about gratitude from experience. It reciprocates -- when you are grateful for the people around you, those people will appreciate you in return. McConaughey exuded thankfulness on stage, and now his positivity is trending on Twitter. The world watched his speech on Sunday and now everyone seems to like him even more because of his sincerity and gratitude... funny how that works.
And Mark Zuckerberg? Well, like the rest of us, the founder of Facebook makes New Year's Resolutions. In 2010 he learned Mandarin Chinese, in 2011, he only ate meat that he killed himself... this year he has committed to starting each day by writing a thank-you note. With respect to hunting and language-learning, this resolution of gratitude sound pretty soft; but in some ways this is Zuck's most extreme commitment. A resolution to learn a difficult language requires patience and a lot of effort -- a resolution to consider who you depend on at the beginning of each day (when you are one of the most powerful men in the world), is another thing entirely. It requires great humility and self-awareness to simultaneously understand one's influence and wealth, and to also admit and attend to one's weaknesses and dependencies. Zuckerberg is a rational man, who is obligated by shareholders to demand perfection and efficiency -- it takes the exact opposite sensibility to slow down and think of one person every day who improves your life and moves you forward.
Hollywood has fostered a popular resentment of Zuckerberg's character -- but he quietly gave $970 million away last year (the most in the world, by a lot), and he is following this generosity with a habit of gratitude. And if gratitude reciprocates -- as science insists that it does -- then he is really about to hit his stride.
You might be thinking: a billionaire and the golden boy -- well of course these two have a lot to be grateful for!!
But don't you too? Don't we all? The point isn't that these two men are successful and that is why they are grateful. The point is that their success hasn't blinded them from the importance of being grateful. It is often true that the richest and most beautiful of us are the last ones to give thanks for good fortune -- so let's celebrate with these two for getting it, and for exercising their right to be happy in spite of riches and fame. And let's learn from them too. Because whether we make billions or we make our living by begging, someone helps us get along, someone buys what we sell, someone throws their change in our bucket. Each of us is indebted to someone, everyday.
Every morning there is dust and roses on the table, and a choice -- so make like McConaughey and smell the roses. Then ask yourself 'who am I grateful for today?' And tell them.
Author Matt Richardson is the co-founder of Gramr Gratitude Co. Their goal is to get people into the habit of writing one thank-you note per week -- check out the campaign for gratitude here.