Nov 26

Excerpted from speech delivered at the graduation ceremony for Jacksonville Joe Berg Seminars on November 25, 2014

In 1992 I arrived at the University of Texas at Arlington to start my doctoral studies in finance. I was married. Our initial days on campus was challenging. New environment, new program and of course Texas! A few months after we arrived, my professor, Dr. Larry Lockwood invited us to join his family for Thanksgiving dinner. Upon arrival I found out that Larry has been doing this for years. Each Thanksgiving he would invite the foreign students and the single students in the program to join his family for dinner and watch the Cowboys play. He could have chosen to spend his precious time with his family alone. But he remembered that around him were people who did not have the luxury of being with family on Thanksgiving. By spreading the joy of Thanksgiving to people beyond his family, Larry taught me a valuable lesson in gratitude. In the words of Maya Angelou, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”

Gratitude is defined in the dictionary as, “the quality of being thankful. Readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” But this definition does not fully capture the essence of gratitude. Robert Emmons the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and who is currently a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, writes that gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

Developing a sense of gratitude allows us to look at the world more as a glass half full and less as a glass half empty. In reality, on a daily basis more good than bad things happen to us. And yet we tend to dwell more on the negative rather than celebrate the positive. Mostly because we feel entitled to all the good things that happen to us. On the other hand, we are always looking for scapegoat to blame the negative on.

Prof. Emmons further explains that when we have gratitude, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset, gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” Gratitude allows us to develop a sense of family and community. By being grateful to our parents we not only acknowledge the obvious, that we literally would not be here today, if not for our parents, but more importantly we use gratitude to develop familial bonds. The emotion of gratitude strengthens relationships. Gratitude helps us develop a sense of community, by constantly reminding ourselves, that without community our lives will be very different.

Gratitude helps us think about the greater good, the common good, before we indulge in the narcissism of self-gratification. While social media has undoubtedly bought many benefits it has also unleashed on us the rising specter of narcissism, defined in psychology as extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration. The constant urge to Tweet every feeling and seek as many “likes” as possible, creates illusions of grandeur and engenders infantile behavior, even among adults. Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University shows in her research that narcissism, observed in traits such as low empathy for others and increased materialism, is on the rise.

Expressing and practicing gratitude can be an antidote to the rising narcissism. Research shows that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits. At a physical level, practicing gratitude helps us build stronger immune systems, lowers blood pressure and helps us sleep longer. At a psychological level, practicing gratitude helps achieve higher levels of positive emotions and makes us more optimistic and happy. At a social level, practicing gratitude makes us more forgiving, generous and outgoing.

Gratitude generates these positive outcomes because gratitude first and foremost affirms goodness in not only others but most importantly us. Gratitude shows us that we are indeed capable of rising above me-first and finding empathy with other. We affirm that there is good in this world and there are people who make living worthwhile. Gratitude allows us to appreciate that much of what is good around us comes from efforts others make. Gratitude allows us to be humble, knowing much of the good that we enjoy is dependent on the goodwill of others. If you are spiritual, you may appreciate the divine power that endow us with many gifts. I am reminded of a short poem that I will like to share it with you.


Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,

If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something

For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.

During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations

Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge

Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes

They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary

Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.

A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are

also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.

Find a way to be thankful for your troubles

and they can become your blessings.

—- Author Unknown

Psychologists have for long argued that the sense of being valued by others is a fundamental human motivation. Individuals experience social worth when they feel that their actions have made a difference in the lives of other people. The feeling of being needed, cared about, and valued by others strengthens interpersonal bonds and generates positive relationships. Gratitude is viewed as a pro-social behavior that enables those who help others to feel more valued.

Experiencing and expressing gratitude enhances our sense of wellbeing. C.S. Lewis observed, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.” This may be the fundamental reason we Tweet and Instagram and Snap Chat. While sharing our thoughts instantly may serve a useful function, we should not forget that such sharing will lead to happiness if we are less narcissistic and more disposed to expressions of gratitude.

Seek things to be grateful for. Write them down or Tweet them out. Add to two or three items to your list each day. In a few days you will literally be able to count your blessings. Go beyond this. Call someone up and thank them for something that you should have thanked them for, but did not.

Think about gratitude. Contemplate gratitude. Live gratitude. Celebrate gratitude. Share gratitude.

Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving.