A Worthwhile Pursuit

On July 4th, we celebrated Independence Day in America. An often-quoted phrase in our Declaration of Independence tells us that we are entitled to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The framers of the Declaration had it right. Happiness is not a right, but the pursuit of it is. And as we have seen in working with our clients over the years, that right is not a given, it’s actually a choice that we can make, all day, every day.

Many years ago, a mentor of mine introduced me to a technique to start off group conversations in a positive way. He suggested that we ask each person to “tell me something good” that happened that day or since the last time we met. I am now in my fourth decade of asking that question of hundreds of people from small groups and large teams, and from high-level executives to front-line plant workers. A simple exercise consistently executed has been proven to have a huge positive impact.

Often, when first presented with the idea, people will balk. They might say, “I can’t think of anything,” or “this has been a bad week.”  I rarely yield to let them off the hook. Instead, I ask them to think about it and find something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that they are grateful for. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had a participant who was extremely resistant to the exercise at the beginning, ask permission to share 2 items in future sessions. The process slowly and surely builds and has an impact on all participants. I’ve seen the morale and general attitude of entire groups become much more open and positive over time. Many former participants have shared how this process was in turn, successfully applied to their teams.  And I’ve had many participants say, even years later, that they used it at home too. They have seen a huge difference in their relationship with their children by flipping the script on the question, “How was school today?” to the more deliberate, “Tell me something good that happened at school today.”

Seeing these results has reinforced my belief that we must actively pursue our own happiness. The world has too many obstacles and challenging circumstances for us to ever let our guard down. When we look for and can articulate the things we are grateful for, it reinforces those things. Once we start looking, we see more of them, and the process builds on itself.

This pursuit is not easy. It takes a level of commitment and discipline to stick to it, and it sometimes seems contrary to our natural style. Take a moment to think about the last few group conversations you were engaged in. How many times did those conversations morph into a mutual commiseration session with people trying to one up each other with the bad circumstances they’ve experienced? It can go something like this: “Boy, that storm was really bad yesterday, I had puddles in my backyard.” Someone else says, “Puddles? My yard looked like a lake, and two of my flower beds got wiped out.” Another adds, “Two flower beds? My whole vegetable garden has been underwater for days, I think I’m going to lose everything.” You see, it’s kind of human nature to one-up, or maybe better stated to “one-down” each other. Although this is a simple example, negative talk like this can create a habit that overflows into more serious matters.

I always say that the word Gratitude is a combination of two words: Great and Attitude. It is a habit of thought to look for the positive implications in every circumstance. This is not a superficial, rose colored glasses approach to all that will happen, but an honest effort to try and find things to be grateful for no matter the circumstances. It’s a manner or style that doesn’t yield to naysayers but is relentless in that pursuit of happiness. For any leader, that’s a pursuit worth striving for personally, and with your teams, and if practiced regularly, can help shape positive attitudes and have a big impact on results.

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