"[I]t's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst...and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life."
- Lester, American Beauty
American Beauty's Lester expresses how wonder begets gratitude, how that surprising awakening to the world's tender beauties can cusp our hands together to bow.
As we head toward the year's end and are in the season of gift-giving, it might be insightful to reflect on gratitude. For as that wonder tracker G.K. Chesterton sums it up keenly: [T]he test of all happiness is gratitude. Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to santa Claus when he puts in my tockings the gift of two miraculous legs?"
Last month, I wrote several pieces on gratitude and praise. At the bottom of this post is a sort a review of them and of other related articles.
Today I want to imagine we've gathered four varied and insightful sources on the subject of gratitude, authenticity, and entrepreneurship - a Woodstock-based writer and speaker on innovation & technology, a world-traveling entrepreneur, a London-based consultant on creative entrepreneurship, and a Brooklyn-based designer.
Meet the round table guests:
Mark McGuinness offers a creative assortment of courses, consultations, and just plain smart tools for creative entrepreneurs and micro-business owners. Through his Lateral Action business, he questions standard assumptions about what it means to be creative in the twenty-first century and how we can thrive as creative entrepreneurs with integrity. I appreciate Mark's sense of humor, his keen intellect, and the fact that he's a fellow poet who also works with entrepreneurs.
Michael Belfiore speaks, writes, and consults on ways that innovative technology and practices can advance your business ahead of the herd. One thing I especially appreciate about Michael's approach to everything he does is his authenticity. He knows his stuff, but he also has integrity and wants to do what's right with technology - not just what's cool.
Chris Guillebeau aims to travel to every country on the planet to talk with people about a simple yet radical mission: how can we live and work with utter non-conformist authenticity. I appreciate how Chris dares to live his dream and make a living doing it. (Plus, his The Art of Nonconformity business and products have great style.)
Monica Gurevich creates delightful websites that both defy standard protocol and yet are market-savvy. She's senior designer and production director at Lascala Lococo and also works independently. She's generous to a fault with her clients and manages to maintain her own creative flair while still meeting her clients' needs. I appreciate how Monica brings her wit, charm, and impeccable know-how to everything she does.
I asked these four innovators the same questions about gratitude. Here are their email replies "recast" in a mock-roundtable format:
Jeffrey: Thanks for coming to today's roundtable on gratitude. Each of you brings to the table a different perspective on a subject that we often pay lip-service too yet might have difficulty acknowledging just what it is, how we feel it, and how we practice it: gratitude.
My first question is, Does receiving gratitude inspire you to more creative action?
Monica: When I was six, my mother thanked me with a wide clinched smile when taking a bite of my latest culinary concoction of "Egg shell surprise." I am sure she did not realize at the time this small token of gratitude is now the very reason why I like to cook for people. It seems to be an intrinsic response to react favorably with more creative action, especially when the gratitude comes from a valued source. It boosts my creative flow.
Chris: It does me as well because if I know I've helped someone. I want to help them more... and help other people.
Michael: Encouragement always helps, especially from editors and clients!
Mark: It inspires me as well, BUT it's important not to do things IN ORDER to receive gratitude.
Jeffrey: So, is it easy for you to express gratitude?
Chris: I think it's fairly easy, but I also know that most of us have selfish tendencies too. So the challenge is to continuously reject scarcity in favor of abundance.
Monica: Yes! I think gratitude can evoke really wondrous things, which makes the act that much more exciting. Expressing gratitude can inspire and in turn produce new possibilities for how people interact with one another.
Mark: I like to think so! I do my best to thank people who are helpful and generous to me. Apologies and thanks to anyone I've forgotten. :-)
Jeffrey: It's one thing to express it. Is it easy for you to receive it?
Michael: Not so easy to receive. I have to stop and allow myself to breathe it in. Strange that something so beneficial is so hard to receive. Or maybe not so strange...perhaps its in the same category as exercise as something that feels great but that is hard to get started doing. I am consciously trying to do this better.
Monica: I agree somewhat. Receiving gratitude is another thing entirely; I was led to believe that you had to earn gratitude in some grandiose way - hat it was the prize of some long and hard journey you would receive after fighting off the fire-breathing bulls and reclaiming the Golden Fleece. I am always taken by surprise when I am on the receiving end. Simply knowing I have an affect on others is a gorgeous feeling.
Chris: It is probably easier for me to express it than receive it. But I'm trying to get used to both of them as a daily practice.
Mark: I'm getting better at this. I once came across the advice ‘never interrupt when someone's giving you a compliment' - because it's not very nice if someone offers you a gift and you refuse. So I guess the same goes for gratitude.
Jeffrey: Give readers a sense of how you express it regularly.
Monica: One of the most important aspects of my relationship with my clients is for them to know that they are valued. As a graphic designer I try to prioritize each of my clients, making sure that feel they have my attention and understanding. When clients take an active role in the design process and the conceptual exploration, I make sure that I express my appreciation. As a creative professional, I would like to think that my clients and I find each other, and for that I have much gratitude.
Chris: I try to a) be aware of my surroundings, b) be aware of all of the people in my life, c) live intentionally, and d) always think: what can I do to help someone today?
Mark: I thank people for specific help or good turns. Usually face-to-face. I could probably do a better job of this online as well. And every so often I remember to do a gratitude meditation, calling to mind all the things I'm lucky to have. And invariably, I feel better afterwards. And invariably forget to do it for ages afterwards!
Michael: I make an effort to compliment other writers, graphic designers I work with, my wife, and my kids. It makes me feel good too.
Jeffrey: My last question is a bit tricky. Dare I ask, are there ‘advantages' for creative practitioners and entrepreneurs to practicing gratitude?
Chris: Yes, it has both external and internal advantages. When you live a life of gratitude, you cultivate trust and authority. Over time, that certainly helps business. But more importantly, hopefully you gain a mindset and worldview that allows you to be at peace with everyone and feel like you are making a difference.
Michael: Absolutely. Most of any job is working with people, and any time you can help people to feel good about working with you, the smoother and more effective your interactions will be. Just the simple courtesy of returning an email promptly is a way of expressing gratitude for a person's desire to work with you, and goes a long way toward encouraging further interactions.
Monica: It can be a challenge using your artistic abilities within a creative profession. I have learned early on to take criticism and accept rejection after working myself dry. Sometimes we can lose momentum and insight when we feel we are not creating a positive response in others. But this is not exclusive to creative types - everyone should receive gratitude when deemed deserved. The goal is not to limit people's expectations of themselves but to nurture. People always remember when gratitude has been expressed, and even more so when it is not.
Mark: See my first answer! As you suggest, it's a tricky subject, because if you have a grateful mindset, and appreciate what you have, then you're likely to be open to more opportunities and to build better relationships. But as soon as you start practising gratitude in order to get something else, then it ceases to be genuine gratitude... As Seng-Ts'an said, "a tenth of an inch's difference, and heaven and earth are set apart!"
Thanks, everyone, for your contributions to the round table discussion. I hope our readers will carry on the conversation.
How do you express gratitude in your professional and personal lives? How easy is it for you to express and receive it? Any advice or wisdom you can offer?
A Review of Writings on Gratitude (written by me unless otherwise noted):
Intimate Gratitude: Ways to Go Beyond Client Appreciation
Gary Snyder and the Need to Feel Deeply in Your Work
Flower-Song: On Writing & the Disposition to Praise
Songs of Gratitude: How Poets Connect Us to the Pulse to Praise
Three Truths to Help You Live a Life of Gratitude by Chris Guillebeau
A Welcome Burden (on parenting and gratitude) by Michael Belfiore
See you in the woods,
Say, do you want to make 2011 a Year of Wonder? Visit here to find out how - and spread the word! The world needs it.