The Power of Gratitude

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After a few months of working at Likeable Local, I had been waning. I was in a sales, and I wasn’t selling, which is always a recipe for disaster.

But I was hopeful that, maybe, one day, I’d have a breakthrough.

It never happened. Even though I worked hard. And even though I tried to sell things. And put in an absurd amount of effort to gain some traction.

I’d sold, like, $1,600 worth of the product. The amount of time Dave Kerpen — the head of the company — spent with me training me, teaching me, helping me do better — was likely worth 10 times that amount, alone.

So, naturally, my termination date was encroaching. We’d talked about how I needed to sell X before the end of the month (and that X was like way, way more than what I’d sold in my entire time there).

I think I may have gotten half-way there, which was spectacular for me at the time, but still not even close.

So, instead of continuing to drag me along and have me underperform for forever, we decided it would make sense to part ways.

During the moment of my termination, I expected to hear all of the things that movies and stories and dramas all train you to expect to hear when you’re getting fired: collect all of your stuff, and we’ll escort you out; or, good luck on your next venture; or, blah blah blah, we’re making some strategic cuts, blah blah blah, corporate jargon, blah blah.

Instead, here’s what he asked me: how can I help you?

When we’d agreed it wasn’t working out, I cried in a stairwell for a while. I felt like a total failure. Like I wasn’t good at anything. I’d started to believe that I probably couldn’t ever succeed in sales and that it was a terrible idea to keep trying.

So, I thought, what would help? What would make this easier?

I asked him if he’d write me a recommendation. He said, yes, absolutely.

That recommendation helped me secure my next job. Another sales job (even though, secretly, I believed that this next job would end the exact same way but somehow convinced myself that it wouldn’t, and it didn’t).

I did well there. Really well. They paid me lots of money. They took me on trips. On boats where we drank a lot of booze.

It was fun.

But I’ll never forget that moment where I heard, how can I help you?

Months later, when he had a launch party for a new book of his, I was happy to attend. Before that, I sent him a handwritten thank you note — a token of appreciation for the opportunity, for his support, for the recommendation, nothing big — but he appreciated that.

Because he’s grateful for everything: for people who work for him, even if they aren’t the greatest fit; for his investors; for his family, everything. He talks and writes about it everyday.

When I met him at the party, he came over to me, shook my hand, said, that was one of the nicest thing and we talked for a bit.

I’ll never forget that, too.

The Importance of Gratitude

When I was working for Dave and the rest of the team at Likeable Local, he taught me one completely unforgettable value: regardless of where you are in your life, how low you’re feeling and how seemingly shitty everything is, there are always things to be grateful for.

It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well: relationships are working out, you’re killing it at your job and you have an abundance of friendships — but not so much when you feel like the world is against you and everything is kicking your ass.

And, ironically enough, it’s those moments where gratitude matters most.

When I recently spoke with him about his journey and his company and the importance of gratitude for my podcast, he highlighted two significant recent moments in the development of his company:

“We, recently, we had a few bad months, and we had to make some really, really hard decisions. We had to let a few people go.”

He admits that that’s easily the most difficult part about running a business — having to part ways with people.

“It really sucks to let people go… it’s demoralizing, it’s depressing… it’s frustrating.”

But they had to make the tough decisions in order to keep the company afloat.

And it sucked. It’s never easy.

But instead of simply forgetting about them and moving on, he did something that really captures his character and how closely he resembles those values: he sent the two people that left the company a handwritten note.

Thanking them for their time, the work they put in and sending his apologies that it had to end the way it did.

And then everyone else who stayed on the team — because he realized, these are tough moments, and in those moments, gratitude is a powerful force.

And then, another moment:

“I was on the phone with my CTO and I was talking to him about how happy I was right now. Right now, I’m so, so happy about the Mets, because I’m a die-hard Mets fan. And I’m really just happy with the way our company is clicking right now.”

“And I literally said, nothing could bring me down right now.”

Moments later, the phone rings.

It’s his dad’s nursing home, and they’re telling him that he had just threatened to commit suicide again.

“It’s like, uncanny, how I was experiencing this amazing moment of happiness… and then I just went to such an unlikeable, dark moment so quickly.”

His father has struggled with bipolar disorder throughout his entire life, and this wasn’t the first time he’d threatened to commit suicide, he admits.

But by recounting all of the amazing things he had in his life: a great family, and a wife (who was also his business partner); incredible employees who still believed in the company mission; and investors who understood the risk, the rockiness of the situation, and still stuck with him and helped him through it.

And that meant a lot to him.

Why Gratitude is Important

Studies show that even just minor acts of gratitude can have a pretty serious impact on your life and your well-being.

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor writes about how simply writing down three things you’re grateful for, every day, for 21 days, can have a serious impact on your happiness levels.

Maintaining a daily habit of that for just a few weeks, you’ll find that overall happiness levels increase, stress levels decrease and you find it easier to pinpoint good things in your life.

And there’s a particular reason: those who show gratitude for things in their lives and practice being grateful every day have essentially trained themselves to seek out happiness and opportunity.

When you train yourself to think of things that you’re grateful for, even though your entire life is going to shit, you learn that there are always opportunities. For happiness, for redemption, for change.

Because nothing is static, and chances are even the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad.

Here are some simple ways to be more grateful in your day-to-day:

1. Pay Someone a Compliment

Mark Twain has an amazing mustache.

But he’s also profoundly astute in his life-observing — compliments benefit not only the individual to which they are being doled out to, but also the people who send them.

And that can have a serious impact on your happiness — by showing people that you’re grateful for the work they put in, and being specific, you can have a serious impact not only on their happiness, but yours as well.

So, next time you run into someone who you love, or who is amazing in your life or who you appreciate immensely, lend them a compliment.

But don’t be general, be very specific, like: I love how you say the word the. Or something.

Dave Kerpen is the master of thank you notes, too. He says that he writes them every day. Just a few a day can add up to 1,000 notes of the course of an entire year.

It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it can have a powerful impact on those who receive them.

Years ago, did a study that found that people who received a thank you note after donating were 38% more likely to donate a second time.

I adopted Dave’s idea for myself over the years (but, admittedly, haven’t been keeping up as much recently), and the amazing feedback I’ve gotten from friends and family has been absolutely incredible. Some people say it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever sent them.

And it makes me feel great, too.

And it doesn’t take a lot of time to write just one a week, for example.

3. “Be In This Moment”

There’s a brilliant anecdote from a commencement speech delivered by Dick Costolo years ago.

Well before he was brought onto Twitter as its CEO, Costolo took improv classes in Chicago, scraping by on limited funds, trying to make his life work as a comedian.

It wasn’t. But he was learning, and he was willing to roll with the punches in order to figure out his next steps.

One day, during one of his improv classes, he had a brilliant idea, and he wanted to jump into the scrum to make his idea happen.

So he hopped up on stage, attempting to direct the flow of the improv towards where he wanted it to ultimately go. This was going to be brilliant, he thought.

After a brief moment, the teacher of the class stops the scene, and addresses the class (mostly directed at Costolo, of course):

“You can’t plan a script. The beauty of improv is
you’re experiencing it in the moment. If you try to plan what the next line is going to be, you’re just going to be disappointed when the other
people don’t do or say what you want them to, and you’ll stand there frozen.”

He stopped everyone in the room and said, “Be in this moment.”

Stop trying to predict what will happen in the future. Or what will happen the day after that. Or whether or not an event you’re throwing is ultimately going to go the way you want it to.

None of that matters. Focus on the now. Follow your breath. Hang on every word that your friends speak to you. Take in the scenery. Put your stupid fucking phone down because it’s making you sad.

Be grateful for this moment.

You’re alive, you can eat, life is good.