Thanksgiving, Business, and the Continual Feast of Gratitude
Thanksgiving and the Entrepreneur
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American medical entrepreneur, W. J. Cameron once said, "It is literally true, as the thankless say, that they have nothing to be thankful for. He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire. Nothing is possessed save in appreciation of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient." Cameron goes on to quote Proverbs 15:15, "All the days of the afflicted are bad, but one with a grateful heart has a continual feast."
I've always believed it is the simple things that make for success in business. Not the brilliant, not the celebrated, not the strategically complex. One of those simple things is the act of saying "Thank you." Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I always take time to say it, to mean it, to write it, to email it, even to twitter it (much as I hate the patent superficiality of that particular social medium.) As Texas journalist and poet William Arthur Ward put it, "Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings."
For example, most entrepreneurs are constantly talking to other owners and their executive assistants. All day long, in fact. Certainly, any meetings I set up begin with emails and conversations, particularly with executive assistants and even receptionists. I genuinely am grateful, particularly to these assistants, for their care in making my time efficient and specific. No matter how busy my day, I take time to express my gratitude for their effort.
Saying thank you is an emotional act. It doesn't just acknowledge someone's effort, kindness, intent, or action. It recognizes the person herself. It's even more important than acknowledging the principal person you are doing business with because it sets a tone for that discussion. And it is a winning tone. When you suffuse your preliminary actions with gratitude, it shines out of you as a penumbra of generosity.
It just feels great to say "Thank you." with sincerity and a whole heart--not because an assistant is a person of importance, per se, but because it opens up your essential being to a trope of generosity and service before the "actual" business conversation begins. Like so many little courtesies, it is the selfish thing to do. And here I again hark back to my frequently repeated mantra. "Good is greed." In fact, research increasingly shows that thanking folks not only results in reciprocal generosity (where the thanked person is more likely to help the thanker), but stimulate open-hearted behavior in general (Note the work of Adam Grant of Wharton and Francesca Gino at Harvard.)
Theologian and anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (hung by the Nazis 23 days before the Allied victory in Europe), said this about gratitude: "Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts....We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?"
November is the month of Thanksgiving. I am thankful to all of you who read my personal business essays weekly. Thanksgiving means gratitude. And gratitude helps me catalyze the desire to make a positive difference. Gratitude nurtures generosity. Gratitude undergirds everything in me that is good and whole. Gratitude is the vehicle and fertilizer for the flourishing of my future success as an entrepreneur and as a citizen of the world. As Marcel Proust notes in A La Recherch Do Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) "Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy: They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." Lovely and true.
American composer Irving Berlin deeply understood the worth and value of simple and everyday gratitude. He says in Annie Get Your Gun, "Got no check books, got no banks. Still I'd like to express my thanks--I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night." Thank you, Irving. Really. Thank you.