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How Do We Get Beyond Superficial Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. and I love how this tradition calls out our better selves. We remind each other to stop, look around, and give voice to the reasons we have to be grateful.

The very practice of expressing gratitude is good for our souls. It personalizes the meaning of relationships and experiences in a world that seems so often dehumanizing. More than some grand, “become a better human being” strategy, gratitude keeps our eyes and our souls alert to the deep meaning of all that surrounds us.

And, the disciplined practice of reflection and giving voice to our gratitude does something unexpected, it pours rocket fuel on the influence of our lives and leadership.

But, if all this is true, why does the Thanksgiving table round robin of reasons to be thankful seem so shallow so often? What can we do to discover the more meaningful depths of our gratitude? How do we get beyond a superficial or cliche type of gratitude?

How? In one phrase: Don’t settle for the first things that come to mind.

A simple recipe for reflection is to ask yourself "WHY?" three times.

Go below the surface by taking initial things you identify as reasons for gratitude and asking yourself “why is this important to me?” When you come up with an answer, ask the same question again. “Why does that matter?” Repeat the process asking "why?" three times and you will begin to uncover the depth of the gifts you’ve been given.

You will unleash a depth of gratitude that transforms your outlook. That opens your eyes to re-interpret your situation. That compels you to bless people by expressing your gratitude to them.

It will not only change your life, it will transform your leadership.

The more this kind of deeply reflective gratitude becomes a way of life, the more it will pour rocket fuel on the growth of your influence as a leader.

I promised in my last post that I would unpack the leadership impact of gratitude. I realize there is so much that I could say, but I'll limit myself to just three of those benefits.


The more I pause to reflect on what I am deeply grateful for and how those people and things touch my life, the more good I see in my current situation. The more good I see in the present the less angst I feel about the future.

When I look beyond the surface of things it is usually easy to find progress that I overlooked or people whose hard work inspires me. The sheer power of pausing to celebrate what I’m grateful for now shrinks the intimidation factor of the challenges I see on the horizon.


Leadership is about people and people are messy. Conflicts arise. Rough edges irritate. Personalities clash. Stuff happens. And, it becomes far too easy to define people as the problem.

The disciplined practice of gratitude—of stopping to think deeply about what you are truly thankful for regarding the people around you—has a way of training you to relate to people with grace. That is, to see and believe the best about them. To focus on their value as people more than the circumstances of the moment. To emphasize relationship rather than transactions.

Grace makes it easier to become allies committed to solving a shared concern. Instead of competitors in the game of who’s right and who’s wrong, grace creates partners working toward common goals.


The more time and energy we spend thinking about why we are grateful for the people we work with, the more it becomes impossible to keep that gratitude private. Verbally or non-verbally gratitude leaks out.

And, who doesn’t feel empowered by leaders who value them? Who doesn’t want to work for people who appreciate them

The point in all this?

On this Thanksgiving Day in one of the weirdest years of our lives, it is time to issue a Gratitude Challenge.

The Gratitude Challenge:

For the next 7 days, take time every day to stop and consider who and what you are grateful for. Fight the temptation to accept the first thoughts that come to mind and reflect deeper asking yourself “Why?” three times.

It’s just one week. So, see how it goes. Pause. Reflect. And, slow down everyday to put your thoughts in writing.

At the end of the week, I dare you to take the Gratitude Challenge further and continue it for 30 more days. Go from an experiment to a habit.

You can thank me later.

(See what I did there?)

Ben, thanks for a great photo.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


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