Gratitude is a bit like a magic elixir, benefiting us on all levels from the emotional, social and physical to our career and health. Most of us know gratitude is good for us. Some of us even cultivate an attitude of gratitude daily. But, it’s one thing to cultivate gratitude and another thing entirely to express it.
I recently came across a commencement speech given by Fred Rodgers, the late producer and host of the popular children’s program, Mister Rodgers Neighborhood. During his speech, he offers the crowd of soon-to-be graduates an invisible gift: a silent minute to recognize someone – a teacher, relative, friend – who has shaped their lives and to think about them and the impact that this person has had on their life:
“Who are those who have helped you become the person you are? Anyone who has ever graduated from college, anyone who has been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her. We don’t just get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.
I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become the person you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away…but wherever they are, if they loved you and encouraged you and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right here inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time on this special occasion to elevate some thought to them. So, let’s take a minute in honor of those who have cared about us along the way.”
It’s a moving scene (you can skip to 10:24 to hear the part above about impact) and even though it’s not your graduating ceremony, chances are it will elicit all the feels and get you thinking about at least one person who has made a difference in your life.
Listening to Fred Rodger’s speech – watching a powerful, silent minute go by – I found myself caught up in the momentum, reflecting on the people who have impacted my life over the years: my grandparents, parents, coaches, teachers, friends, my life coach and my guru. And one by one as I thought of these individuals and the gift of their impact, snapshots of time flooded my mind.
In the movie of memories, one truly struck me – something I had completely forgotten about until this moment.
It was the indoor track championships of my senior year of high school. I was battling quite a few injuries and not only was the season itself less than stellar, I didn’t place where I wanted to at the championship meet. There would be no second chances. No next year’s. This was supposed to be my year and like the seniors before me, I was seated to sweep the jumping events. But I hadn’t. I was devastated and defeated and worse than letting myself down, I let my team and my coach down.
The day after the big meet, I signed online (back in the day when the Internet was just becoming a “thing”) and found an email from my coach. She had stayed up late the night prior thinking about the meet and how upset I was. In her email she told me there was nothing she could say that would take away my pain – nothing she could do that would change what happened – but that regardless of how I felt or what the results were, she believed in me. She reminded me that there was the outdoor championships and they would be mine.
As a senior in high school whose world primarily revolved around sports, it was inconceivable to me that my coach could still believe in me after the results of that meet. Then again, this was the same woman who freshman year put me in the 300m hurdles cold turkey, watched me fall over every single one (yes, every damn one) and came running up to me at the finish line excited telling me how hurdles were going to be my “thing” alongside jumps. The same woman who didn’t see the fallen hurdles – no, she saw persistence, determination, a tenacity that said, “I’m gonna finish what I started no matter what.” This was the same woman who by senior year believed in me so much that she wasn’t just going to let me throw in the towel on the account that I didn’t land the indoor championship meet like I wanted to.
Belief is a powerful thing and when I think back to my track coach, and really each and every person who has touched my life in a meaningful way, they’ve all shared one thing in common: they believed in me. It wasn’t their expertise or accomplishments that provided me with the direction, guidance and reassurance I needed to accomplish my goals. It was their sincere belief in me that they made known through their words and actions. And it was because of their belief in me that I was able to keep on my path, invested in my journey of self-growth, and eventually learn to fully believe in myself.
None of us are where we are by the sheer force of our own selves. We are where we are because of the support, guidance and help of so many people who have crossed paths with us:
The people who’ve inspired us
The people who’ve awaken within us a deep sense of purpose and self
The people who wouldn’t let us quit
The people who relentlessly support us
The people who cheer us on no matter what
The people who believed in us – our talents, capabilities and gifts – long before we were able to see it ourselves
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is one thing, expressing it is another thing entirely.
How often do you take time to express your gratitude toward those individuals who have impacted your life?
Research from Amit Kumar at the University of Texas of Austin and Nicolas Epley at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business showed that we often don’t express gratitude because we doubt the perceived impact (i.e. they don’t really care what this meant to me).
In Kumar and Epley’s studies, participants were asked to send an email to thank someone who had touched their life in a meaningful way and to express what that person had done and how they had affected their life. Additionally, they asked participants to predict how their gratitude would be received and how that person would perceive them.
One of the most surprising findings from their research was the gap in perceptions between the senders of the thank you emails and the recipients. Overwhelmingly, the senders underestimated how positive the recipients would feel receiving the email and how surprised they were by the content. They also underestimated how warm and competent the recipients would perceive them to be.
Words are a powerful thing and the three most powerful words you can say (outside of “I love you”) are Because of You…
But, they’re also easy words to gloss over because we assume the other party – the important people in our life – know how impactful and influential they’ve been. Sadly, they don’t. In general, we all underestimate the impact we create or the difference we make in others lives. This is why it’s vital we don’t just simply cultivate an attitude of gratitude, but that we express it, regularly – especially to those who have impacted our lives in immeasurable ways.
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Everyone who got where he is has had to begin where he was” and I firmly believe that the teachers, mentors, and other stand-out people who make a difference in our lives play a huge part in helping us get from where we began to where we want to go.
We all have at least one person who has impacted us in some way – that is the reason we are where we are today or has contributed to the person we have become.
This week, take time to reach out to someone who has impacted your life. Whether by email, phone or by handwritten note, express your gratitude for what this person did and how their actions affected your life.
You have the power to pay it back – and forward – with three simple, but powerful words, Because of You…