What Practicing Gratitude Taught Me

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I had never realized how lucky I am, and the power that I have to motivate others until I practiced gratitude. The exercise involved being grateful to myself, and showing gratitude to others every day, even for the simplest things. By the end of the experience, it occurred to me that it’s the little things that brought meaning and satisfaction to life. I felt more positive, less stressed and more connected.

Gratitude can be defined as “a state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside yourself, or when you notice and relish little pleasures.” (Emmons & Stern, 2013). Gratitude may also be a positive emotion that arises from the awareness of a positive personal outcome, not necessarily deserved, that is due to the actions of another person.

I started this exercise with a self-reflection. I was able to look back in my life and acknowledge and be grateful for the good and exciting moments that I have had, as well as the difficult and painful moments that I have gone through. I realized that even what I always thought of as bad experiences, at least taught me something valuable. The exercise reminded me of the time when my country was going through civil war. Young boys of my age would be abducted by the rebel group. The cold nights at the bus stations and sounds of gunshots motivated me to stay in school to get an education to change my country someday. I compared myself to other young boys whose future were robbed from them by the war. I count myself lucky to be alive and I am grateful for this experience that shaped my conviction to help other young kids to get an education.

Practicing gratitude also helped me to appreciate the people who have supported me throughout my life. It struck me that all of the strides and achievements I have been able to make in life have been because someone else believed, trusted, and invested time, energy and resources in me. They made sacrifices for me to make it this far. Coming from a poor African family and background, I had never dreamt of doing the MBA program because it is very expensive; I could never have afforded it even with my entire life savings. Someone else saw potential in me and made all the arrangements for me to come to Walsh for this MBA. I do not spend a single penny to pay for my education. He was never obliged to help me, but he chose to. I am grateful to him!

During the week, every morning, I made a phone call to at least two people who have supported me in my life to say ‘Thank you’. I also put aside about five minutes to express my gratitude and let them know how their support had gone a long way in helping me become who I am today. In total, I called 12 people. Many of them were very shocked yet so delighted. Even though I couldn’t see some of their faces, I felt the joy, love, and enthusiasm it brought them. One of the elder gentlemen I called told me that it was the first time anyone, had ever called him after such a long time to thank him. He said “I feel so blessed today”

This exercise has taught me that gratitude is an important virtue that needs to be cultivated and practiced often. Gratitude has the potential to build social relationships, bring healing and increase life satisfaction.

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