How One Word Can Change Your Entire Life
And It’s Not the One You’re Thinking
I’ve literally been reading Anthony Robbins’ work since college, I’ve gifted his book “Awaken the Giant Within” to several friends, and earlier this month, I went to my second “Unleash the Power Within” event in West Palm Beach, Florida. It was a life-changing event for me much more so than the first one was. Ironically, I believe that’s because I was reaching a peak in my life in a number of different areas the first time I went, and unfortunately, when you’re doing really well, it’s very easy to get a little too full of yourself to pay as much attention as you should to other smart people.
Since then, after having been to the top of the mountain, down in the valley below, and having walked through the desert in between, I was able to see and hear things I wasn’t able to grasp the first time. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? In any case, at this “Unleash the Power Within,” I didn’t just walk across 2,000-degree hot coals again:
I reordered some priorities, learned some things about myself, and it reminded me to place more emphasis on a particular way of thinking. It was one I was already thinking about. In fact, I even have a chapter about it in the new book I have coming out next year. Rather than just blurt it out, let me introduce you to a little story Tony Robbins likes to tell about his own life that helps get the point across.
When he was 11 years old, Tony Robbins’ family was extremely poor, couldn’t afford a decent dinner and it was Thanksgiving. Worse yet, his mother and father were having a horrible fight. According to him, they were saying “the kind of things you could never take back.” His mom was berating his father about how he couldn’t even take care of his family… it was bad. Then, there was a knock on the door. It was a guy who had a turkey and all kinds of Thanksgiving food. Basically, someone had heard they were having a tough time and had sent them food so they could have a nice Thanksgiving. Little 11-year-old Tony was over the moon. They were going to get to have a real feast and maybe, just maybe it would make his parents happy, and they’d stop fighting.
He was incredibly grateful and said it was literally a turning point in his life because the message he took away from that was, “strangers care.” However, when his dad came to the door, he had a very different reaction. His pride was hurt. He was humiliated. He was angry because it made him feel like less than a man. Despite the fact that his family was hurting so much, he was ready to send the man away rather than take the food he was offering, which Tony thought was crazy. The man convinced him to take the food, but not long after that, Tony’s father left for good:
Two people, two different reactions to a situation and if you’ve lived a full life, you can probably understand where both of them were coming from. This is something all of us face because we live in an impermanent world. There are different seasons in life and all things, good and bad, come to an end. How you choose to look at those things has a great deal of impact on the quality of the life you’re going to have.
You can choose to focus on what you’ve lost, what you’ve never had, what you want and don’t have, OR you can choose to be GRATEFUL for what you’ve had and what you have.
On the one hand, there’s nothing easier than falling into jealousy and bitterness because the world we live in tries to play on those emotions all the time. We’re deluged with commercials trying to convince us we’re nobody unless we have their products and politicians trying to get us angry and outraged at other people to make us do what they want. “Envy” wasn’t considered one of the seven deadly sins because almost no one feels that way. It became so prominent because it’s easy to slip into the emotion.
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On the other hand, gratitude is not so easy. In fact, one of the things I like to say is that “Gratitude is the most fleeting of human emotions.” That’s one of the reasons we love dogs so much. Give them a few meals, rub their bellies a few times and they’re ready to sleep outside in the snow with you instead of by themselves in a warm house. Humans? We’re entirely different animals. Once you get past the unconditional love most people get from their grandparents, parents, or kids, you might be surprised at how “conditional” everyone else’s friendship and love turn out to be. We are very much a “what have you done for me lately” species. Of course, that’s also a big part of the reason that so many of us are unhappy.
The reality is, especially if you live in America, you have an almost unlimited number of things you could be grateful for if you chose to be.
I'm grateful to have been born in America. Even though they’re no longer with us, I feel phenomenally lucky to have had two amazing grandparents. My father passed last December, but wow, it was great to have him here as long as I did and I am genuinely grateful my mother is still around. I haven't gotten married or had kids yet, but I have dated some really amazing women. I have a great best friend and some other friends I enjoy being around. Over the years, I have had some other great friends as well, even if those friendships ended for one reason or another since then. I'm just grateful those friendships lasted as long as they did. The dogs I've had? The best. I've had a successful career that has served me well and even though I have a lot more to do on that front, I am genuinely pleased about the things I’ve already achieved. Although I've had some challenges on the health front this year, it really just emphasizes how healthy I have been and still am. I do what I want, I go where I want, and I am contributing to the world with what I do. I have a lot more to give before I'm dead, but I am on track. It's a beautiful world and I'm going to do my part to make it even better before I kick the bucket at 102 or above.
I could go on from there. I mean right this second, I’m writing this column in a house I own, at the beach. I have chicken marinating in the fridge for dinner. I have a big-screen TV I’ll be watching after I finish this column. I just got off the phone with my best friend, my dog is sleeping at my feet, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It feels like a good life in a good world.
Are you in exactly the same position as me? In one sense “no,” since all of us lead different lives, but in another sense, “yes” because we both have a choice about how we view our lives. If I wrote that same last paragraph while focused on the loss, the people I miss, and the things I want, but don’t have, it would look very different, and I would BE very different. I’d be less happy; I’d be less successful and I might even be one of those people making the world worse instead of at least trying to make the world a better place. The same goes for you. We all have a choice and one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that if you look at your life through the lens of gratitude, you’re going to be a much happier person. It’s hard to be angry, fearful, jealous, spiteful, or hateful when you’re genuinely grateful – and all of us in America have plenty to be grateful about.
Some people might write all of this off as that old saying come to life:
The thing is, there’s often a lot of wisdom in old sayings like that and there’s an incredible amount of power in really focusing on what you’re grateful for every day of the week. There’s a reason “gratitude journals” are a thing. There’s a reason Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."
So many of our self-created problems, foul moods, and bad attitudes will just go away if we consistently focus on having gratitude for the good things we’ve had in our lives, have in our lives, and will have in the future. What better day could there be to start embracing that practice than Thanksgiving and what better time could there be to begin than right now?
Like I said to a friend today "We have plenty to be thankful for, though. If everyone in the world had my troubles, no one would have a thing to complain about." It's true, and though I do have problems and faults and a host of other negatives with which to contend, I am filled with gratitude that in all the ways that count, it's a wonderful life.
Happy Thanksgiving to you, John. It's been a real pleasure reading your essays and perspective on life. You certainly have a place in my basket of gratitude.
I’ve spent some time thinking about your recent question regarding favorite Bible verses and you’ve pointed one out.
Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."