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Gratitude, an Attitude

Growing up extremely Mormon, I was taught to be polite and show gratitude. I said "thank you" to everything. I still do. It's a bit of a contradiction here in Vietnam as no one says thank you, ever. It's not part of the culture. Perhaps it is the fact that Vietnam is more Confucian than anything else. There is a large Buddhist influence--and gratitude is an element of Buddhist teachings--but there is no gratitude in Confucianism, just obligations.

According to Wikipedia, Gratitude is "a feeling of appreciation felt by and/or similar positive response shown by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity, towards the giver of such gifts." Gratitude is distinguished from indebtedness as the latter creates an obligation in the receiver to repay the kindness or gift, while gratitude is simply an appreciation of such. Major religions that incorporate elements of gratitude in their teachings include Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Baha'i, and Hinduism. Though much of that gratitude is directed towards God there is also room for appreciating the kindness of a worshipper's fellow humanity.

There are a large number of benefits of gratitude. According to Courtney E. Ackerman in a post at, there are 28 confirmed benefits to gratitude. They cover areas such as:

  • Emotional benefits

  • Social benefits

  • Personality benefits

  • Career benefits

  • Health benefits

I won't go into all of them here, she does a great job of covering each benefit, glosses the study that demonstrated the benefit, and provides references to the studies themselves. Instead of repeating her research, I'll just link to it so you can discover all of the proven benefits of gratitude yourself. Here's the link:

Why am I writing about gratitude? Because this week I randomly practiced gratitude and it brought about a major change in the way I viewed my situation.

It's only been a couple of weeks since I started taking anti-depressants again, so I'm still not 100% in the mood department. Add to that the fact that I have very little actual work experience, see my post Unlearning Helplessness, and the work I do do is bound to be less than what should be expected from someone who has been out of school for over twelve years. And then give us an assignment that was fairly large, in a short time period, and for a major client with high expectations for quality.

Now, I wasn't the only member of the team, but I was a major contributor to the work product we turned in to the partner for final review. I wasn't solely to blame for any failures in quality that resulted from our efforts. But as the managing partner began to review the document and realized that there was a large amount of work still to do, that there were several issues we missed and changes that needed to be made, he became increasingly dismissive of our abilities and our efforts. In addition to the language he used in framing questions, he took time out from working on the time-sensitive project to send us emails just to call our performance into question.

As things progressed I began to feel the weight of failure heavy on my shoulders. Though I wasn't the only one who fell short, I felt like I was ultimately responsible for the problems and that it was my fault that I had let the partner down. I wasn't a good enough lawyer to be at a law firm. I began to doubt myself and my capabilities, and not just in relation to legal work, but everything in general. I began to question my abilities as a writer, the skills and talents I'd actively developed for decades. All of it. I called it all into question and began to feel miserable because I wasn't good enough to produce a quality piece of work in my job.

But then I was struck with a sideways thought. Why? Why was I questioning skills I didn't have? Why should I expect myself to be a perfect and experienced lawyer capable of seeing issues and producing high-quality work products when I had so little actual experience? Why should my lack of experience in one area--and the inevitable criticism of the work I produced in it--lead to me questioning skills I have developed over a long period of focused effort in another? If anything, I should be grateful for the partner's criticism. He was going out of his way to make sure that we were involved with his revisions and asked us to review his work to see what we missed and how we could improve our product. Despite his occasional abuse in the emails, he was actually trying to teach us how to be better lawyers.

And then I realized that I was grateful. I was grateful that I wasn't being fired for my inadequacies as a lawyer and that I had been hired in the first place knowing how little actual experience I had. I was grateful that the boss had taken the risk--a very real one given my past performance--of hiring me in the first place. I was grateful that he was taking the time to include me in the revisions and allow me to see his changes and give my inputs.

I was so grateful I decided to thank him.

At the end of the day, I drafted an email thanking him for his patience with my inexperience and for giving me the chance to learn the things I'd never had the chance to learn before. As I was writing it, and as I reviewed it and sent it, I felt a great comfort descend on my previously burdened chest. A warm fuzzy but bigger. I felt good, happy, and relieved. My entire frame of mind changed and I began to realize that this one act had rescued my day and altered my attitude.

That's why I'm writing about gratitude. I accidentally had the opportunity to practice it this week and it had such a huge effect on me that I thought it worth sharing. Gratitude is a proven boon to our moods, our personalities, our relationships. It is capable of changing worldviews and conflicts. It is capable of helping injured minds and hearts heal. It is something that I am now going to strive to practice more frequently. Not just the "thank you" when someone brings me a drink at a restaurant, but real gratitude, the kind that sinks deep into your brain and changes your behavior. I've had a minor awakening through this experience and I hope that by sharing it you can too.

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