Sherry and Rob talk about the topic of gratitude.  They both list things they are grateful for and also explore the science behind having gratitude and how it can positively influence your mind and body.

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Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling:Hi, folks. This week we are reviving an old episode from the archives, an episode that we did last year about gratitude. And in this episode Rob and I talk quite a bit about the science of gratitude, some of the practices of gratitude, and we thought this would be a timely discussion. For those of you who are U.S. based listeners, this is our week of celebrating Thanksgiving. And it’s a time when we celebrate abundance with good food and gather together with friends and family. And it’s good, it’s right that we should honor and enjoy the resources that available to most of us who are listening to this podcast. And for some of us, it’s been kind of a hard season to be very grateful. It feels like there’s a lot of chaos and a lot maybe going wrong in the world around us.
 And I think for me, one of the natural outpourings of a practice of gratitude is a sense of generosity and a sense of sort of knowing my own resources and my abundance, and then being able and interested and wiling and concerned about sharing some of those resources with other people who are, in some cases, desperately in need of them. Throughout this past year I’ve had the opportunity to begin doing a little bit of work with an organization called the International Refuge Assistance Project. This is a group of attorneys and law students who are willing to help people around the world pursue refugee status in the U.S. and Canada and Europe.
 And through this work, I’ve been able to meet some of the refugees who have resettled here in the U.S. and I have to tell you that in 10 to 15 years of being a psychologist, working in refugee camps in West Africa, working with members of the American military, the stories coming out of Syria are among the most desperate that I can even imagine. And I’ve considered it a great honor to be able to help even in small ways, support the work of this agency.
 So if you’re in a place where you’re enjoying your Thanksgiving and you’re aware of your abundance, consider this as one of the many options, the many points of need in the world where people can use your resources and are really very much in need of help. I also want to mention had grateful Rob and I are for you all, for the folks who listen to this podcast, who support the podcast. You talk about the podcast. It’s been such a pleasure to make this a part of our lives and make you a part of our lives. And we’re grateful that we get to do really interesting work with amazing folks like you. So if you’re a U.S. listener, have a happy Thanksgiving. And for the rest of you around the world, I hope that you will enjoy this discussion of some practices of gratitude.
Sherry Walling:What are you grateful for?
Speaker 3:My mom. My whole family, actually.
Speaker 4:You and daddy and Fisher and people who will take us in when we’re selling our house and a lot of other things.
Rob Walling:I am grateful for cold, chilly mornings and being surrounded by friends and great food.
Sherry Walling:Why is it important to say thank you or express gratitude?
Speaker 3:Because it’s right and it’s respectful and it makes everyone around you say, think, “Wow! That guy is really polite. I should see him more often.”
Sherry Walling:How does gratitude make you feel inside of you, inside your heart or your mind?
Speaker 3:Well, if you’re depressed, you feel happy because you’re grateful for those things. And you can make new friends by being polite to people and stuff like that.
Sherry Walling:Are you glad that there’s a holiday like Thanksgiving where we practice gratitude?
Speaker 3:Yeah. Because I love mashed potatoes.
Speaker 4:Because I like Thanksgiving. It has chicken and corn and berries, a lot of things. And maybe pumpkin pie, maybe with a fork or maybe not with a fork.
Sherry Walling:How does daddy eat his pumpkin pie?
Speaker 4:With his bare hands.
Rob Walling:I think it’s important to practice gratitude because where we direct our attention, our energy follows. And the more that we practice gratitude, the more in tune and aware of all of the things we have to be grateful for we become. And it’s like training a muscle. If we practice being grateful, it will become easier to be grateful in the midst of difficult things. And it’ll be harder to be cynical or afraid or pessimistic if we’re grateful.
Sherry Walling:So as I mentioned, it’s a good time in our lives for this Thanksgiving holiday if you’re based in the U.S. And more than just, “Oh, isn’t this nice. It’s this nice, warm, fuzzy family holiday.” Gratitude is a pretty important piece of a healthy mind and a healthy outlook on life. I had a professor at UC Davis when I was an undergrad who is kind of the leading researcher in gratitude, and his name is Robert Emmons, and he wrote a book called Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make Your Life Happier. And in his research, which is in the world of positive psychology, there’s really strong findings that gratitude, when we deliberately cultivate gratitude, that can increase our well-being and happiness. It’s associated with better sleep, with optimism, with empathy, with better health.
 So saying thank you and paying attention to what you’re grateful for is not just nice for Thanksgiving, but really powerful for well-being overall.
Rob Walling:So I get that certain people may be more thankful by nature or just may be more pleasant by nature and may say thank you and actually be thankful by nature. But if someone’s listening to this and they don’t feel that way, and they feel like they’re not thankful for much or that they’re unhappy with a lot more things than they are thankful, how does being thankful help them? Because it feels a little touchy, feely, a little positive psychology. If you know much about it, I’ve done some reading, I’ve listened to a couple audio books, and I like some of the tenants that they bring up, insight interesting research. Some of the stuff I find a little over the top and a little too … I don’t want to say unbelievable, but it’s almost mystical or new agey or there’s something about it where I’m like, “Yeah. I kind of don’t buy that.” I’m not saying that about gratitude, but I imagine that there people in the audience, there’s someone listening right now who’s thinking it out about what you just said.
Sherry Walling:Well, a quick little defense of positive psychology. I think it’s a really important field because it’s asking the question, not just what is mental illness or what breaks down in people’s thinking or in their brains, but it’s asking the question how do we live well? Which I think is a super important question. So what’s the science of happiness? What’s the science of connected well relationships? I think you’re right that it can get a little bit irritating when the message is sort of, “I think, therefore I am,” or “If I tell myself three happy thoughts then I will be happy.” And that can sound super cheesy, so I get where you’re coming from in your critic of it, but the research is also pretty compelling.
 I think about something gratitude specifically. We all have a ton to be grateful for, and I think when people get in the head space of they’re striving after something, they’re working on a goal, they might be in a season of frustration or a season like we’re in, which is a season of feeling overwhelmed, it’s really easy to focus on the negative things of the things that are not yet done, or the business that’s not yet launched, or the customers you haven’t yet acquired, and feel really focused on the incompleteness and drive to make that better. It’s not bad to driven to make that better, but it can be bad if it’s unbalanced and you fail to recognize all the things that are going well and are working in your life.
Rob Walling:That’s the key right there is especially as a founder or someone who’s dealing with a founder, let’s say a significant other or part of the family, there is so much stress surrounding certain things that it is easy to forget to be grateful. And not celebrating those big victories and those big wins leaves you with these long barren stretches of time where it feels like, “What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Because this kind of sucks all the time.” And I think that’s where I can see this fitting in really well. Not that necessarily, “Oh, if I wake up …” Like you said, three happy thoughts every day, not necessarily going to do anything, but I think that there are wins along the way. There’s almost always wins and being thankful for those and celebrating those, I think is actually something I’m actually pretty bad at, but I think that is very important as a founder.
Sherry Walling:So I kind of made the offhand joke of “think three happy thoughts a day,” but the way that Dr. Emmons has done his research is to begin helping people notice things they’re grateful for by just asking them to write down five things they’re grateful for everyday, so it’s actually … That’s the beginning point is to write down five things, or to notice five things, that you’re grateful for everyday. Whether that’s a great sandwich, a beautiful sunset, your spouse being extra patient with you, your kids actually picking up their Legos the first time that you ask them. Whether it’s that one customer or person who sent you the positive feedback about your new feature, the fact that your car works. I mean, there’s lots and lots of things that happen everyday that we kind of take for granted, and gratitude is about not taking things for granted, but about paying attention to the things that are working.
Rob Walling:So I have a confession to make. I listened to a book about positive psychology. It’s called The Happiness Advantage and I had mixed feelings about it. I thought, “I really like some of the stuff they said. I was pretty irritated by some of the stuff they said,” but that was one of the things … I took some notes as I was listening, and one of the things was to start doing that. And it was three positive things at the end of the day that were kind of a retrospective to look back at the day and try to pull out some positive elements, some things you’re grateful for, in essence. And I did it for about a week. I didn’t plan to do it forever, but I really wanted to see what it felt like. It was noticeable to me that I started viewing the days differently.
 When I woke up the next morning, I felt like, “This is going to be a good day.” And I’m not going to say causation/correlation, anything like. I just know that when I did that, I felt like I could slow down. I felt like I was kind of living more in the moment than I typically do. I don’t live in the moment as a rule. I’m always trying to live, typically, in the future. And that allowed me to, thinking back on the previous day, it allowed me the next to think, “Oh, this day’s gonna be good.” Because good things are happening. Things that I should be grateful for are happening.
Sherry Walling:I think there is pretty strong research support for correlation between your subjective experience and well-being and this practice of noticing things that you’re grateful for. Gratitude helps keep materialism in check. It helps to keep irritability in check. It helps to keep anger, frustration, aggression in check because so many of those negative emotions have to do with feeling like you don’t have enough or you’re not enough. And gratitude tells a different story, tells a different story about your life, no matter … whether you are experiencing illness, or you’re feeling lonely, or your business isn’t working the way that you want to, gratitude tells the other version of the story which is that more things are going right than are going wrong.
Rob Walling:We’ve talked in the past, and you’ve told me about research that is generally accepted in the scientific community that your mind can create things that hurt or help your body, in a sense that if you’re stressed all the time and you’re worried and you’re basically what we might call a Type A personality, that that stress, which is pretty much just your mind doing things, releases chemicals, it can give you early heart attacks, it can deteriorate whatever. I mean, it’s bad for you. It is bad for your health, and it can do bad things.
 I don’t know if the opposite has been linked, proven, shown, or whatever, but that’s the type of thing … and I’m thinking of it here. There’s some certain things that maybe, as left-brained person, we may not have all the data or you may not buy it. You may think, “Well, it’s all in your head.” But all in your head can dictate how you feel, it can dictate hormones that are released, it can dictate your outlook on life. That outlook on life can then translate into doing better at work and getting … You know what I’m saying? It’s this crazy cycle.
Sherry Walling:All in your head is actually the most powerful thing.
Rob Walling:Exactly.
Sherry Walling:All in your head means all of you.
Rob Walling:It’s easy to be skeptical about it or to just say, “If you’re going to say three positive things, that’s not going to make a difference,” but it’s that little wedge, it’s the edge of the wedge that three positive things makes your brain start thinking, “Oh, positive things are going on,” which then makes more positive things happen by nature, which then makes you feel better about the day, which then releases whatever chemicals it is that makes you happier and wanting to take on work and getting work done faster, which then, again, is a virtuous cycle. So whether we can or can’t explain it, I’m sure there’s tons of research to back it up, but even beyond that it just seems like the way that our bodies work. Exactly. It just seems logical that our minds do actually have that much control over our physiology. And then from there, our physiology dictates a lot about how we feel, and therefore, how we perform.
Sherry Walling:So what are you grateful for?
Rob Walling:I’m grateful that the sale of one of my apps has finally gone through and it’s been a long process, several months, and especially the last week got pretty hairy, a lot of late nights, and I was stressed that it wasn’t gonna go through. As it is always right towards the end, as soon as you get into escrow, things can go sideways. And I’m grateful that it’s all over, and I can relax, and it’s Friday night, and we’re basically going out to celebrate. What are you grateful for?
Sherry Walling:I’m grateful that you found a buyer. I’m grateful the transition went smoothly. I’m grateful that it didn’t take months and months. I’m grateful that you had help from the broker that was a big source of support. I’m grateful that your developer hung in there and helped get it done. There’s so many layers within that one big point of gratitude, so many things that could have been harder or gone worse. I think there’s obviously the standard things like family and kids and safe house, comfortable life, those kinds of things. But today I’m particularly grateful for you supporting me wanting to teach yoga, and do yoga, and spend a lot of time doing yoga. That’s been something that I’ve really enjoyed. It’s been really good for me. And I realize that every time I go do yoga, that means you’re kid wrangling. And you’ve really never given me a hard time about that, and I’m really grateful for that, for the freedom to do something in my life that’s important and not feel bad or guilty about it.
 Yeah. I’m also grateful that it’s Friday afternoon and that I’m not at work. I don’t work for the government anymore. I can be here doing this with you, and I’m grateful that there are listeners who have given this enough momentum to make this a valuable investment in our time and to make it something that feels important. So I’m grateful for all of you out there who are listening to this right now.
Rob Walling:And if you feel like you get value out of this show, we’ve done 40 something episodes now. We’re looking to up our game. And as a result, we started a Patreon, which is just a way to help support us financially, to allow us to produce better shows, spend more time doing it, and that kind of stuff. If you go to supportzenfounder.com, pledge anything you want. You can pledge a penny a month, but if everybody pitched in a few bucks then we can really do a lot of stuff. We could pay for a professional editor and do more in depth storytelling and that kind of stuff. So check out supportzenfounder.com if you like the show and you wants us to keep doing it.
Sherry Walling:And have a fantastic Thanksgiving if you are U.S. based. And regardless of where you are and what you’re eating this week, maybe take a little time to reflect on what you’re grateful for and see how that settles into your body and into your mind and maybe your productivity and maybe your business. Thanks so much for listening.
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