This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before. — Maya Angelou
When the unexpected email landed in my inbox, I had to read it over twice. I glanced around the coffeeshop, sure that I was getting “punked.”
“Scott,” the email read, “my name is Carly. You don’t know me, but I really need to meet you. Please say yes. How about I meet you at your house this Saturday night at 10:00?”
Not knowing who “Carly” was or why she would want to visit me, I moved to my laptop’s delete button. I paused.
Elementary school flashed to mind. Years I spent in anxiety, shyness, and the victim of severe bullying. Back then, all I could do was to try to stay quiet and safe. Invisibility was my preferred state.
Now, I seek out the uncomfortable. Now I don’t run from fear; I chase it.
Carly arrived at my house right on time. Perched together on my small gray couch, with my Frenchie, Morty, leaping across our laps, Carly shared why she wanted to meet me. She was going through an impossibly hard time. Her marriage was crumbling, and she was frantic about her young son who had an undiagnosed illness. She knew that I had a degree in positive psychology and had started a courage movement and felt that I could help her.
Talking with her that night was a deep and powerful experience for both of us. We communed for four hours without stopping about happiness, forgiveness and gratitude. At 1:00 a.m. we stood, smiled, and walked stiffly to the front door.
She looked at me and said, “This upcoming week is going to be hell. I need something to look forward to. I loved what you said about a gratitude practice. How about I send you five things I am grateful for each night for a week, and you do the same?”
“Sure. Why don’t we just text them to each other? You’ll get through the week. I promise.”
That very next night, we began texting each other five things we were grateful for. With each day, our texts became more vulnerable, more honest. We extended for another week, and then another.
At the time of this writing, we have been texting five gratitudes every single night for seven years.
Seven years of nightly practice — 13,000 individual gratitudes — has changed my life.
It has made me a better leader … and a better human. And I want to share what I’ve learned.
מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקיים שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה. רבה אמונתך
I give thanks before you, Ruler living and eternal, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion; abundant is Your faithfulness!
(Modeh Ani, the first prayer traditionally recited upon awakening in the morning)
Although “thanking” is central to our Jewish practice, gratitude practices are often viewed as lightweight, new-agey, wishy-washy. In other words, gratitude gets a pretty bad rap.
But to me, gratitude is a deep and vulnerable practice. In my book, Scare Your Soul, I encourage inner-work and expressions of gratitude that require courage. I share some new perspectives on the emotional experience:
- We now know that, biologically, our brains can’t respond to anxiety and gratitude at the same time. As leaders, when we begin to feel fear creeping up on us (like when we chair an important community meeting or solicit a prospect), focus on gratitude.
- Being courageously grateful doesn’t mean focusing only on sunshine and roses. In fact, it is powerful beyond measure to feel grateful for our challenges as they are happening. We begin to view discomfort as a gift… one that will allow us to grow.
- The 80-year Harvard Study of Adult Development confirms that strong social relationships make us happier and healthier. When we share our gratitude honestly and vulnerably with a partner, we build a beautiful, strong and authentic bond between us.
- Newer technology – texting, WhatsApp – makes sharing gratitude easy and removes barriers to consistent practice.
I encourage you, as a leader in our Jewish World, to try a simple, six-day courageous gratitude practice. I believe it will make you a better leader and a happier human. Consider it your “Scare Your Soul” gratitude challenge:
- Draft a gratitude partner who will commit to a six-day practice.
- Start on a Sunday and end on a Friday afternoon. Each day, text each other five things you are grateful for. Be open and vulnerable. Can you share gratitude for your flaws? Or a challenging experience that is forcing you to grow?
- Really listen to your partner’s gratitudes with interest and an open heart. Let them sink in.
- Following your last round of sharing on Friday, bring your experience to your Shabbat table. Share your experience with others and ask them about what makes them feel grateful. Over Shabbat, reflect on the experience. How can you bring more gratitude into your life, fueling your courage to give, learn, appreciate, and serve?
Get to know the author
WHP Scott Simon (Cleveland 05) is a happiness entrepreneur, founder of the Scare Your Soul courage movement, co-founder of a happiness incubator, and studied and worked with international thought leaders in the areas of courage and happiness, and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.