Gratitude is the greatest of currencies and the most contagious of gifts.

One of the things I am most grateful for has been the opportunity to learn from some of the best and most incredible business minds. A common trait I have found among these successful individuals has been their ability to show gratitude no matter the circumstance. Recently I had a chance to interview a friend and entrepreneur, April Bernal-Cleek

April is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s had a profound impact on my life in a very short period of time and continues to do great work through her company(s) Illuminative and EHR Concepts. When I interviewed April, we dove deep into her journey to success and honed in on one particular trait that has been her daily practice for years: gratitude.

I’ve written about gratitude in the past, it was my theme for 2016 and also helped spur my annual goal of Letters of Thanksgiving in 2016 where I wrote a letter to a friend every day for a year. 

In a similar sense, April learned to practice gratitude at a difficult stage in her life. At that point, she had no money, was working as a waitress at a job she didn’t enjoy, and was unable to start a family. Yet, April made a conscientious decision to be grateful for everything she had – for opportunity, for a roof over her head. Ultimately training herself to believe she had enough. It was this daily practice of thanksgiving that opened up the opportunity for her to eventually go on to start a $10MM+ Health IT company. 

Find the light

Always look on the bright side of life. – Monty Python

It can be difficult to be grateful when things aren’t going our way. My boss hates me, I don’t make enough money, I’m out of shape, incapable of being in a relationship, the list is never ending. But within every situation there is always a bright side.

Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, says it like this, “I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.” 

Gratitude is hard, especially in the muck. But if there are dishes in the sink, that must mean there was food on the table. So within every circumstance, look past the micro-negatives to see the macro-positives. They’re there, you just have to search for them.

Record gratitude

It helps to write out the things you’re thankful for. Some people have a gratitude journal, some write it on a sticky note. My daily gratitude is recorded in Evernote alongside my daily to-do’s. It helps for me to look back and laugh at the things I’m grateful for even years after they’ve taken place.

When recording gratitude, each day doesn’t have to be big and spectacular. Often times you can’t appreciate the big things until you’re able to appreciate the little ones. Perhaps it’s I’m grateful for my cup of coffee this morning, the laughter of my kids, lunch with X, etc. Even doing so in hard times: I’m grateful for the argument with my wife because it reveals I have someone in my life who cares enough to challenge me to grow outside my comfort zone.

When you write things down, you remember them. And all of a sudden, you’re carrying that gratitude with you everywhere you go; even when things are difficult.

Extreme Gratitude

The reason gratitude is so effective is because at it’s core, it removes you from the center. When you start giving thanks, you realize the world no longer revolves around you. Gratitude creates a bigger picture with additional clarity and a realization that you play a tiny role in this grand scheme we call life. And that’s comforting for someone who thinks the weight of the world is on their shoulders.

Lately, I’ve been practicing an extreme version of gratitude. It removes me from the center even more! It’s hard, but here’s how it plays out:

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m grateful for X (let’s say, John).” Some would understandably interpret this as: I am grateful for John being in my life.

The extreme version of gratitude says: “I’m grateful for John.” ie: I’m going to place myself in John’s shoes, and be grateful for the things in his life; for John’s job, his ability to make people laugh, John’s kids, you get the gist.

It’s hard enough taking stock of one’s own life and appreciating it, let alone practicing empathy and being grateful for things in another person’s life. But again, you realize that this world is much bigger than what’s in front of you, and that’s the greatest lesson gratitude continues to teach me.

Practice makes perfect

Gratitude, like anything else in life, gets better the more you practice it. I’ve seen it in my life, April’s life, and countless others. The more you make gratitude a practice, the greater opportunities seem to emerge. Not because life significantly changes, but because it now becomes the lens by which opportunities are screened. 

Gratitude truly is the greatest of currencies and the most contagious of gifts. Pass it on.