The Power of Gratitude


Lack of gratitude may not be life endangering, but it certainly isn’t life enhancing. In a capitalistic society, it’s easy to keep reaching for more — more money, more power, more success. We forget to step back and appreciate what we have. Our leaders can help. By their example, they remind us of the power of thanks.

  • John Tu and David Sun, co-founders of Kingston Technology Co. in California, give annual bonuses to their one thousand employees. Since 1997, the company has awarded each employee from $20,000 to $69,000, based on tenure and performance, helping to foster a sense of family at the company. “We’ve had complaints from other companies that we’re too generous,” admitted one of the company’s vice presidents. Tu and Sun are leaders in showing companies how to express their gratitude to hardworking and loyal employees.
  • Henry Kaufman, one of the world’s leading economists, has been a leading Wall Street figure for more than three decades. He has given back to society in many ways, including contributing his time and expertise as director of numerous corporations and not-for-profit organizations. He is an example of someone who knows that the money he has accumulated (he is a millionaire many times over) is only relative to the happiness it can bring.  Kaufman has made expressing gratitude one of many personal achievements.
  • When she was head of the American Red Cross, Elizabeth Dole regularly went out of her way to thank people all over the world for the efforts they made to help people in need. In the past she quietly visited inner-city facilities for the poor and sick with no notice to the media.

How many award-winning scientists, athletes, actors, politicians, journalists — leaders in their fields — upon accepting their awards, thank others for helping them in their achievements?

Gratitude can be transforming. When we become grateful, our attitude changes from a1negative to a positive one.

  • At a meeting of AI-Anon, a branch of Alcoholics Anonymous for family members whose relatives have drinking problems, a man talked about his lousy childhood. He complained that years of therapy had not worked to heal him. The group leader gave the man a choice: he could feel sorry for the rest of his life, or he could give thanks for being tough enough to survive and able to tell the tale.
  • Many cancer patients cope with the effects of chemotherapy on their immune system, their hair, their muscles, and their general physical condition. Some of them rise above the temptation to give into self-pity and recognize what they have to be thankful for: the availability of treatment, friends, family, a job to go back to, or a promising survival rate. Their positive attitude is often a powerful tool for combating their illness.

The power of gratitude can transform organizations and nations as well as people. Giving back to the community is one way individuals, organizations, and governments express gratitude for the successes they enjoy.

  • More than most companies in Los Angeles, the Atlantic Richfield Co. has contributed its executives’ time and substantial funds to the city’s civic culture. A leader in corporate citizenship, the company organized a “Save The Books” program after a fire nearly destroyed the city’s Central Library; helped small businesses recover from the 1992 riots that devastated the city after the verdict in the criminal trial of the four police officers accused of beating motorist Rodney King; contributed to buildings for the homeless and the arts; and initiated many other works that engaged the company in the community. “One of the traditions of leadership,” says Russell Sakaguchi, executive director of the Arco Foundation, “is to realize it’s a much bigger thing than your involvement.”
  • Lewis Bernard, formerly a partner at Morgan Stanley, started Classroom Inc., which gives computers and computer instruction every year to inner-city children. Starting with nothing, he has developed a program that has provided several thousand computers to schools throughout the New York City area.
  • Herb Granath, a creator of Monday Night Football and one of the leading forces behind the cable network ESPN, always has said, “It is time to give back.” Herb has given back regularly to his church, to his job, to young people, and to countless others.
  • Honeywell Inc. is one of the Minneapolis area’s leading philanthropic institutions. In 1998 the company donated approximately $13-4 million to education, housing, and low-income neighborhoods. Local leaders hope that the company’s recent merger with Allied Signal will not deplete its financial commitments to the area.
  • Father Ted Hesburgh is one of the most accomplished educators of our time. He regularly works with inner­ city young people and never takes credit for anything that he accomplishes.

Giving thanks is a way of acknowledging you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Give often.

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Image credit: provector / 123RF Stock Photo

Robert L. Dilenschneider is the founder and Chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm head­quartered in New York City. He is the author of many books, including the best-selling Power and Influence.

  • If you haven’t already, you should read some of Adam Grant’s work

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