The extraordinary power of thankfulness


When I was kid, we would invariably get that one assignment. I remember Sister Ruth standing in front of a room full of us fifth graders. All 5' 1" of her dressed in that blue nun's habit. A 1970's update from the old-school Flying Nun version. She would say, "Tell me what you're thankful for."

I would fill the page with things like, "I'm thankful for mom, and dad, and grandma and grandpa. I’m thankful for my house. And snow days. And pepper (the wonder schnauzer).”

It seemed effortless to reel off a litany of blessings. 

The years rolled by. Sister Ruth was no longer around requiring me to enumerate my gratitude. The litany faded.

What Sister Ruth knew

It seems obvious. Of course we should appreciate the world around us, including all those that inhabit it. That's just part of being a good human. It may be one of those things that's so obvious that we overlook the importance of actually putting it into practice. And putting it into practice is important. Because, beyond being a good human, gratitude does some pretty wonderful stuff for us.

Thankfulness nurtures humility

Humility goes hand-in-hand with thankfulness. In order to be sincerely thankful, we have to be humble. It’s hard to be self-centered when we’re recognizing that there’s some higher power involved in our success. The very nature of feeling thankful for all that we have helps us adopt a sense of humility. That humility then helps heighten our empathy for the world around us and those in it.

Thankfulness encourages empathy

Thankfulness helps us be more considerate toward others, expanding our empathy. Expressing gratitude makes us more cognizant of how others may feel and what they may be going through in their lives. It makes us consider our interconnectedness. It helps shift our thinking, making it less about ‘me' and more about ‘we'.

Thankfulness fosters wonder

This may be one of the most magical things about thankfulness. It helps us stop and really take a look around. Being grateful puts us in a state that allows us to really see those amazing things that surround us. They are usually simple, unassuming things that don’t scream for attention. But as we take the time to notice, we find ourselves awed by the beauty. Awed by the complexity that makes it all possible. It’s seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. It’s an incredible feeling to be overcome by that kind of wonder.

How do we make thankfulness a practice?

There is no one way that thankfulness absolutely must be practiced. It could be everything from recounting our blessings at the end of the day to incorporating it into daily meditation.

For me, it starts with my morning drive to work. I have made it a habit to say out loud, “Thank you for this beautiful day.” Is that a bit over the top? Maybe for some. What I’ve found is that it’s not just about saying those 6 words. It’s what happens afterward. Those words reorient my line of thought. It sends me down a path and I find myself thinking more deeply about being thankful. It’s irresistible. Because with those thoughts of gratitude comes a genuine feeling of happiness.

Most remarkably, those feelings sustain and I find myself thinking about thankfulness more often. A post on Inc. pointed to a recent study that confirms this phenomenon.

I'm still a little surprised at myself as I say my 6 words each day. I find it irresistible to surrender myself to the feeling of thankfulness. Is it brain chemistry? Or something more spiritual (maybe it’s the ghost of Sister Ruth?) I’m not really sure. I do know this. When I’m thinking about gratitude, I find myself feeling full of hope. There is very little room in my thoughts for cynicism. Very little room for worry. That’s a pretty remarkable feeling. To feel full of thanks.

Dan Salva is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than three decades of experience in brand marketing and developing and implementing go-to-market strategies. He can be reached at

PurposeDan Salva