Utilizing Your Natural Advantage

A friend once shared a simple, but profound story about a school in a distant village. Now I’m excited to share it with you.

Far, far away, say half a world away, there was a small, brick school. Atop the school was a bell, which rang promptly at eight o’clock every morning to call the children to class. The boys and girls arrived reluctantly and precisely on the hour. Never a minute early, occasionally a little late. The bell would ring again at precisely three o’clock every afternoon, liberating the children to go play. At the first sound of the bell, the children would bolt out the door of the school. Never lingering a moment longer.

Except for one.

A particular young girl named Marie came early and stayed late every day. She helped the teacher clean the chalkboard, sort papers and tidy up the room. During class she eagerly participated in the lessons.

One day when the other children were particularly disruptive and inattentive, the teacher singled out the girl as an example. “Why can’t each of you be more like Marie? She listens; she arrives early and stays late.”

Almost immediately one of the boys from the back of the room spoke up, blurting out “it isn’t fair to ask us to be like her.”

“Why not?” asked the teacher.

The boy squirmed in his chair. It was clear he was uncomfortable answering the question. “Because she has an advantage,” he replied.

“And what might that be?”

“She’s an orphan,” he whispered, almost under his breath.

The young boy was right. Marie was an orphan and she did have an advantage. An advantage of knowing that being at school was better than being at the orphanage. At school she felt she was building toward a better future. At school she knew she could contribute her time and talent to helping others have a better, brighter day.

At school, she was grateful for what others took for granted.


In many ways, gratitude is the ultimate positive emotion as it expands our sense of well-being and enhances our appreciation for those people or things that brighten our day or lighten our load. Perhaps this is why gratitude is frequently described as a gift that keeps on giving.

The philosopher Cicero once said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.” Years later, sociologist Georg Simmel referred to gratitude as “the moral memory of mankind…if every grateful action…were suddenly eliminated, society (at least as we know it) would break apart.”

These insightful words alert us to the power of gratitude to reorient our perspectives, lift our spirits and even improve our lives. As Yale University researcher Shawn Achor shares, “…gratitude is not only one of the fastest ways to raise the level of happiness, it literally transforms your health.” Yes, gratitude is a positive force, indeed.

Gratitude is not only one of the fastest ways to raise the level of happiness, it literally transforms your health.

Science confirms guarding ourselves from taking things for granted makes us more willing to accept responsibility for others, less likely to judge the value of others based on their position or possessions, and more conscientious, more agreeable, more compassionate, and less envious and egotistical than non-grateful people. In other words, gratefulness positions us to model humanity operating at its peak, positive capacity.

What’s essential to recognize, however, is that although we all have opportunities to express thankfulness, too few of us choose to regularly act on those opportunities. We only need to look at the low level of employee engagement in our workplaces, assess the number of discouraged children and spouses in our homes, or examine the lack of mutually beneficial relationships in our communities to see that gratitude, though in abundant supply, is a commodity many fail to frequently share.

Don’t let that be you.

British writer G. K. Chesterton is considered by many to be one of the major literary figures of the 20th century. His influence on literature was eclipsed only by his zeal for life. To what was this sense of ever-present exuberance and exhilaration attributed? In a word, it was gratitude.

Gratefulness positions us to model humanity operating at its peak, positive capacity.

In his autobiography, written just before his passing in 1936, Chesterton summarized his view of gratitude as “if not the doctrine I have always taught, is the doctrine I should have always liked to teach.” Today, almost eight decades after he wrote those words, their meaning rings just as insightful. That is, they remain a testimony to the truth that there exists no lack of opportunities to practice gratefulness in and through our lives, only an absence of commitment. Each of us has immediately within our reach the ability to share a kind word, pen a pleasant note of thanks, or offer someone the gift of our undivided help or attention.

Learn a lesson from Marie, the grateful orphan, and exercise your natural advantage. Choose to take fewer things for granted and you too will discover that every moment is spring loaded with possibilities to make our world a better, brighter places to live, work, and play.

Why wait? Resolve to be more grateful, beginning today. I promise you won’t regret it.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. – William Arthur Ward

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Image credit: pat138241 / 123RF Stock Photo

John is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. The senior-curator for GeneralLeadership.com, he is an accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster who has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts. His award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. In addition to serving our nation as an active duty General Officer in the United States Air Force, John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible. He is blessed to be married to the most patient person on the planet and together, they have two amazing sons. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website, www.MediocreMe.com

  • Spark the Action

    John, wonderful story – thank you for sharing

  • Margy

    Wonderful article, John! It is so true that “there exists no lack of opportunities to practice gratefulness in and through our lives, only an absence of commitment”. We may be reluctant to be vulnerable, but can be happier and more content when we focus on what we’re grateful for and express our appreciation. Thanks for this post. Warmed my heart!

  • Kevin

    Great article. Each morning, no matter my mood, I try to find three or four new things to be grateful for – and by doing so I improve my mood and set the tone for the day. Gratitude creates positive perspective and humility – another powerful leadership trait.

  • Helen M Coe

    Love this article, John. Years ago, when I was going through a rough patch, I put together a list of ten things I was grateful for and hung it on my refrigerator so I could be reminded of the positives I had in my life. They were just little things. I read them everyday, adding a few every now and then. What amazed me was that while it was taking a while for my situation to get better, this list became my ray of sunshine. My perspective of that time in my life began changing and I became a better human being for having been through those challenges. I’ll never underestimate the power of gratitude in good times and bad. Thank you for sharing your insights!

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