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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
November 2002

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Does it strike you as strange that we need a national holiday in the US to remind us to be thankful? Why is it so hard to remember to be grateful for our many blessings without being reminded? Shouldn't it be natural to thank others?

What Makes Appreciation Difficult

If saying "thank you" was so natural Mom wouldn't have worked so hard to include it along with "please" and "I'm sorry" as magic words that smooth the rough spots of society. Mom could have told us once and we would have gotten it instead of reminding and drilling on the importance of "what do you say to the other kids who bring presents to your birthday party?"

The problem is with our brains. Human brains are wired to problem solve. Like air traffic controllers, we scan our radar screens for novelty and danger. There is survival value in doing so. Cave people who were relaxed and complacent about their environment didn't live to reproduce. Those who were hyper vigilant lived to have lots of babies and live rich and full lives until they died at 32 either fighting a saber toothed tiger (if they were male) or in their 13th childbirth (if they were female). We were not meant to live long enough to worry about hot flashes and 401Ks.

After deplaning last month in Austin, Texas and stopping in the airport restroom, I commented on a conversation of women lamenting the unpredictability of automatic toilets and sinks. "I'm getting used to unpredictability in my part of the country outside of Baltimore and Washington, since we have had more than our share of unpredictability these past 14 months worrying about terrorists and snipers." One woman said, "And don't you have a lot of politicians? I bet they're the scariest."

In the past year I have had to remind my clients that if they feel a wee bit hyper vigilant these days, they should blame it on their ancestors. We are genetically programmed to worry and fret. Our cave relatives had little time for appreciation. It was a good day if nobody got eaten by the tigers and the fire didn't go out.

Benefits of Appreciation

Selfishly, an attitude of gratitude is good for you. It forces you to bypass the ancestral hard wiring of pessimistic scanning for danger and override it with optimistic scanning for the good stuff. Positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania has found that unless you live in a high danger environment, you will do better in health and happiness to spend your psychic energy scanning for good stuff than fretting like your pessimistic cousins. Focusing on what is good in your life puts you into a zone of high productivity and high creativity. This habit of optimism extends your life expectancy and promotes a high quality life.

Furthermore, expressing gratitude to others builds relationships. It is a good way to stay connected to the people who matter to you so they will stay engaged with you, friends, family, etc. Our social skills have gotten more sophisticated… when we use them. According to William James, the founding father of American psychology, nothing seems to reach people more that the feeling of being appreciated. In an increasing unpredictable world, being connected to others who help you survive will have survival value.

Secondly appreciation is also a good business strategy. If you show your clients/customers appreciation, you are more likely to retain customers and gain new ones. If you are an appreciative customer, you are more likely to receive good service in the future. Since our brains scan for novelty, we need to use our scanning devices to look for delightful surprises and to be willing to wonder. On the one hand, you want people to expect great things from you and come back for more. On the other hand novelty pulls at our brain. Once someone begins to feel entitled to being appreciated, it spoils everything.

Developing a Grateful Heart

How do we install that software to override the genetic hardware of pessimistic anxious scanning so we can scan for what is right in our lives even if it is not novel?

Tuning up our awareness of appreciation involves an understanding of the process of change and the willingness to tolerate it as a slow process that moves from intentionality to best practices. From the intention to live a life of more appreciation and hope to the actual practice of that discipline may take small steps:

  • At the end of the day ask yourself, "What three things am I grateful for today?"
  • When thanking others be specific, mentioning who, what, when, where.
  • Thank three people a day. On a quiet day alone with your spouse or best friend, thank that person for 3 things either qualities you admire or actions they have taken on your behalf.
  • To get even more disciplined, keep a gratitude log where you list the items above.
  • After a month of doing these activities, they will become easier and more automatic.
  • You might still need to remind yourself of these lessons from time to time especially when threatening things are distracting. After all, wherever you live, there are scary things… even politicians.
Here are some reminders of what to appreciate:
  • Appreciate nature.
  • Appreciate your own gifts.
  • Appreciate meaningful work that lets you use your gifts in ways that you value.
  • Appreciate relationships
    *Vendors: when you are an appreciative customer of your vendors, they become great referral sources.
    *Support: your staff is your marketing team whether you define their role that way or not.
  • Appreciate adversity which can increase resilience depending on how you chose to handle it. Resilience is the ability to withstand stress and continue to function. It develops from working through adversity. Actress Rita Moreno said on turning 70. "Throughout my life I've faced adversity, but it has taught me a valuable lesson. If you get knocked down, you have two choices: Lie there and be defeated or get up stronger for the experience. I have always chosen to get up."
  • Appreciate the sacrifices other people make for you. In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10 year old boy entered a restaurant and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked. "Fifty cents," replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. "Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired. By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. "Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied." The Little boy again counted his coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, put down his coins and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two quarters and five pennies. He sacrificed the sundae to have enough left for the tip.
Appreciation will allow you to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Right now, rather than longing for the good old days, work on building the good old days of tomorrow.

Poet Mary Oliver wrote: "What are you going to do with your one precious life?" You are continually being offered the choice to live a life of anxiety and turmoil or to live a life of peace and appreciation. Which life will you choose?


This November, extend thanksgiving from lasting one day to lasting all year long. You might even thank your politicians for the hard work they do on your behalf.

Grateful for all of you,
Susan Robison

Martin Seligman. (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press.

BossWoman coaching topics include

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.
Up and coming workshops

In the new year:

Title: Will you be my Valentine?
When: February 14, 2003
Where: TBA
What: A workshop for couples wanting to keep the romance alive.

Title: How to Sell When You Don't Want to Sell
When: March, 2003
Where: TBA

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BossWomen e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

Copyright 2002 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without my permission.

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