Some people might have a hard time today with the question: "What are you thankful for in 2020?"
This article is designed to help. Because learning to express whole-hearted gratitude is one of the most important keys to success and happiness in life.
Recently, I asked the readers of my daily newsletter at Understandably.com to share what they're thankful for this year.
Their replies were truly inspiring, and they got me thinking on a deep, philosophical level about gratitude, and how to practice it.
The result was that I came up with the list of seven "gratitude prompts" you'll find below. Some of these are things most people never even consider. While the list is compiled with business leaders in mind, I think it will apply to most people.
If you start practicing gratitude like this, I think your 2021 will be a lot better than 2020--regardless of what happens around you. Here's how it begins.
1. Be grateful that you're alive.
Start with this one. It's so simple, and yet it's so easy to forget about it: You're alive! Right now! How cool is that?
Can you imagine all of the highly unlikely things that had to happen in order for you to even have been born?
So, be grateful that your parents met. Be grateful that their parents met. Be grateful for whatever strange, against-all-odds things had to happen.
Imagine, not only did we get to be born, but we were born in the 20th or 21st centuries, we speak the world's most common language, and we're walking around with small devices in our pockets that can connect us to almost the entire history of human knowledge.
I mean, the timing is pretty great.
Even though there are more than seven billion people alive on the planet, that doesn't make this gift of life less unique. The gift of life is worth being very thankful for.
2. Be grateful for pain and longing.
Wait, what? Pain and longing? What kind of list is this?
Absolutely, yes. Learn to be grateful for the pain and longing in your life. Do it for two main reasons.
First, because good relationships are what make us happiest and most fulfilled, and all good relationships depend on understanding. If you'd never experienced pain and longing, you'd never be able to understand anyone else.
The second reason? Pain and longing lead to growth. It's what we talk about in business: Solve customer pain.
But it's also about learning, growing, and moving forward to fix the pain in our own lives.
Pain and sorrow hurt. Longing is usually no fun.
But if you learn to be grateful for it, you'll be happier in the long run.
3. Be grateful for your needs.
First, be grateful for your needs that are being met.
Do you have a home? Food? Shelter? Protection from the elements?
Congratulations. The base level of Maslow's hierarchy is taken care of. That's fairly easy to be grateful for, even if we sometimes forget.
The trickier part? Being grateful for unmet needs -- frankly, the kinds of things that lead to pain and longing sometimes (see above).
These are the fires that get lit under us. They're what motivate us to exercise creativity.
They're what get us out of bed in the morning on the days when we'd really rather sleep in.
No needs? No necessities? Then no inventions. (Necessity is their mother.)
Be grateful for progress, and in turn, be grateful for the needs that make them possible.
4. Be grateful for forgiveness.
We all mess up. We all have to ask for forgiveness sometimes. We all have reason to be thankful when it's given.
Here's a twist though: How about exploring gratitude for your own ability to forgive?
Because you're human; you've been hurt by other people. You've probably even been hurt by people you care about. Maybe deeply.
I've written before that I think people who look for business partners should look first to people they've done other projects with before. The reason is that you don't want the first argument you have to be over something important, like the direction of your company.
But you will have arguments. Some of them might get heated.
The ability to forgive and move on keeps you from throwing out these kinds of good, valuable relationships. They wouldn't be tenable otherwise.
That makes your ability to forgive a gift, and something else to be grateful for.
5. Be grateful for your failures.
This is a good one, right? Failures. I've sure had my share of them.
Done right, however, failures are a sign of ambition. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.
They're also learning opportunities--not just a chance to learn from your mistakes, or the times you fall short--but a chance to learn how to fail.
You learn what to be afraid of and what not to be afraid of. You learn sometimes that there's nothing really to be afraid of--that we all get second acts in America.
And third ones, and fourth ones, as long as we keep going.
Fall short, sure, but realize it almost never has to be the end of the story.
Be grateful for your ability to write that next chapter, but also for the experiences--even the failures--that brought you to the blank page once more.
6. Be grateful for your people.
Our lives are largely the sum total of our relationships. So train yourself to be grateful for the people in your life.
People like your family, your friends, your co-workers.
And your classmates. Your acquaintances. If you're running a business, your employees and teammates and customers.
It's hard sometimes, but I'd go so far as to say: Learn to be grateful for your rivals -- even your enemies, if you have such people -- the ones who hurt you or bring out the worst in you.
You get knowledge from even those relationships. You get understanding. You get things worth being grateful for.
And while we're at it, I'd put the animals in your life in this category too: pets if you have them. Those relationships are important. And they're worthy of gratitude too.
7. Be grateful for hope and faith.
Was this year a difficult one? I'm sorry to hear it, and I hope experiencing that difficulty brings you hope.
How? Because, by definition, if this year was especially difficult, then other years must be better.
That's not to minimize the very big challenges and pain that some people have faced in 2020. It's just to recognize that hope is many things, but it's partly the sense that bad times prove the existence of better times.
Locked up with it: faith.
I'm not going to evangelize here; I've been wrong about the details on enough things in my life that I have a hard time telling anyone else, "This is what you should believe."
But hope and faith go hand in hand. They're prerequisites to optimism. And optimistic people are the ones who achieve the greatest success and happiness in life.
So learn to be grateful for both of them. And feel a bit better about next year.
Gratitude as a habit
I think you'll come up with other, even better examples of "gratitude prompts" to add to this list. I hope you'll share them.
Again, it was hearing what all these other people had to say about gratitude that got me thinking deeply about it all to begin with.
But I hope it already starts to make a bit of sense about how life--in 2021, for example--could be a lot harder for people who don't learn to practice gratitude.
It's not just about going down a checklist. It's about developing a habit of looking for the positive and the good--and then articulating why you're grateful for it all.
The pandemic will end. The economy will rebound. It might not be easy, but we'll figure out solutions to our big problems.
Then--spoiler alert--there will be other problems and other challenges to solve.
But it's OK. It's what moves us all forward. And that alone is yet another thing to be grateful for.