30 Days to a Better Man Day 5: Cultivate Your Gratitude

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 4, 2009 · 32 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

The following story ran in a newspaper some years ago:

The District of Columbia police auctioned off about 100 unclaimed bicycles Friday. “One dollar,” said an 11-year-old boy as the bidding opened on the first bike. The bidding, however, went much higher. “One dollar,” the boy repeated hopefully each time another bike came up.

The auctioneer, who had been auctioning stolen or lost bikes for 43 years, noticed that the boy’s hopes seemed to soar higher whenever a racer-type bicycle was put up.

Then there was just one racer left. The bidding went to eight dollars. “Sold to that boy over there for nine dollars!” said the auctioneer. He took eight dollars from his own pocket and asked the boy for his dollar. The youngster turned it over in pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters-took his bike, and started to leave. But he went only a few feet. Carefully parking his new possession, he went back, gratefully threw his arms around the auctioneer’s neck, and cried.

When was the last time you felt gratitude as profoundly as this little boy did?

Aesop said, “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” Indeed, gratitude is one of the hallmarks of a life lived well. It is a virtue that profoundly impacts your personal happiness and the quality of your relationships.

Showing Gratitude to Others

A lack of gratitude is often at the root of a variety of the ills that plague relationships. When a wife or husband never shows appreciation for their spouse, the embers of their love are soon extinguished. When a boss never thanks his employees for what they do, the employees start to resent both him and their job. On the flip side, nothing can buoy up our relationships quite like gratitude. A warm word of appreciation can instantly thaw the ice between people.

How often do we thank our wives for taking care of those little errands we forgot to do? How often do we thank our girlfriends for how thoughtful they are? When was the last time we thanked our co-workers for helping us get a project ready or our friend for being there to help us move?

We often assume that people either get thanks from other people or that they just somehow know how grateful we are for what they do. We are usually wrong on both counts. Here’s another old story that illustrates this well:

A group of friends in the midst of an after-dinner conversation started talking about what they had to be thankful for. One of the group said, “Well I, for one, am grateful to Mrs. Wendt, an old school teacher who, 30 years ago in a little West Virginia town, went out of her way to introduce me to the works of the poet, Tennyson.” “And does this Mrs. Wendt know that she made that contribution to your life?” someone put in. “I’m afraid she doesn’t. I have been careless and have never, in all these years, told her either face-to-face or by letter.” “Then why don’t you write her?”

Now, all this is very poignant to me, because Mrs. Wendt was my teacher and I was the fellow who hadn’t written. That very evening, I tried to atone. On the chance that Mrs. Wendt might still be living, I sat down and wrote her what I call a Thanksgiving letter. This is the handwritten note I had in return. It began:

“My Dear Willie-

I am now an old lady in my 80′s, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and seemingly like the last leaf of fall left behind. You will be interested to know, Willie, that I taught school for 50 years and, in all that time, yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered my lonely old heart as nothing has cheered me in many years.”

What prevents us from showing our gratitude more freely?

Gratitude is inextricably tied up with the virtue of humility. Gratitude shows that we’re paying attention to the acts of service people perform for us and that we truly understand how those acts make our life better, easier, and happier. The ungrateful man is callous; he’s come to think that all the good things that happen to him and all the service rendered him are an automatic response to his impeachable awesomeness. He deserves all that stuff and more. Thus, he never takes notice of the good things that happen to him. And he’s never really happy with what he has. He deserves only the best in life, and concentrates solely on the ways in which this ideal hasn’t been met.

The grateful man is a humble man. He has no illusions of his grandeur. He knows that bad things happen to good people. He knows how easily a rally can turn into a slump. He knows how much worse off many others are than he is. He understands the sacrifices others make on his behalf. And he deeply, deeply appreciates them.

Personal Gratitude

Gratitude is not simply something that we externally share with others. It is an attitude that we live with every day. Some of the unhappiest men I’ve met in my life have also been the most ungrateful. They could only see the things that were wrong with their life, choosing to concentrate  on the things they wished they had and wished had happened but didn’t. Their whining corrupted their soul. On the flip side, some of the happiest men I’ve know are the ones that truly embraced the virtue of gratitude. Some of them were dirt poor, but they were still so grateful for what little they did have. They focused not on the things they lacked, but on all the things they had going for them.

Some people think if they had more stuff or better luck, then they would magically have more gratitude. But the number of your material possessions or relationships will have no effect on your attitude. Once you got those things, you’d simply start thinking about new things you wanted. Gratitude is an attitude that can be cultivated in whatsoever circumstances you find yourself in. It’s not about good things happening to you, it’s about finding new layers of wonderfulness in the things that you have right now.

The Task for Day 5: Cultivating your Gratitude

Today’s task has two parts to help you work on both your personal gratitude and also on showing your gratitude to others.

Part 1: Cultivate Your Personal Gratitude

It’s time to take stock of all the good things in life that we have to be thankful for. So task #1 is to make a list of 10 things that you’re grateful for.

When you start, big things will probably come to mind first: health, family, job, kids ect. But remember gratitude will really work its magic in your life when you start taking notice of the great layers of pleasure present in everyday things. We often walk around like zombies, totally numb to the great beauty and joy we experience each day. So think about really specific things. Not just “I’m thankful for my wife, but, “I’m thankful that my wife makes me laugh every day.” Not just, “I’m thankful for my kids,” but “I’m thankful for how happy it makes me when my kids rush to the door when I come home from work.” It doesn’t have to be deep stuff. You can be thankful for a delicious meal of beer and pizza or how fresh the house smells when the windows are open. Really take some time to think about the stuff that gives your pleasure and happiness. And don’t feel like being grateful for material things is superficial; it’s great to take time to reflect on how thankful you are for your 350Z.

Part 2: Show Your Gratitude to Others

Too many times we skimp on the thank you’s because something has happened so often it’s become routine or we figure the person already knows how thankful we are for them. But as I said above, they often don’t, and even if they do, telling them directly will warm their soul and make their day.

So task #2 is to give 3 thank you’s to 3 different people today. These have to be specific thank yous. I’m not talking about the waiter bringing your soup and you saying, “thank you,” in return, although you could at the end of the meal say, “I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for the extraordinary service you gave tonight.” It’s okay to thank people just for doing their job well. Yeah, they’re just doing their job, but I think we all know plenty of people who can’t even rise to that level, and I’m personally grateful when people have enough integrity to do so.

Thank your significant other for how wonderful she is and mention some specific things about her that you love. Thank your co-worker for bringing donuts. Thank an AoM Community member for their contributions to the community. Thank your teacher for how great he or she is.

It doesn’t have to be present stuff either; give another thank you to your friend who showed you the best time in NYC when you came to visit 2 years ago. Send a thank you to that old  professor you had in college who really opened your mind. Call your brother and thank him for helping you get through that rough time you had last fall. Think about people you should have thanked but missed your chance with or the people you really didn’t thank enough.

These thank you’s can be done in person, on a post-it note, by letter, by email, by phone, whatever. Just put some thought into it and get going!

Remember, part of the 30 Days project is keeping yourself accountable. Check in with the 30 Days Community Group and tell us what you’re thankful for and who you thanked.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Barrett June 4, 2009 at 6:34 pm

When I am really grateful for something someone does I always try to say just how much I appreciate them for it. I always make it a point to be thankful to those around me that make my life easier and in the end I always feel better about my life. It feels good to be grateful for those around you.

2 Josiah June 4, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I am grateful for this website. Thanks!

3 Greg Throne June 4, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Why are men so hesitant about showing gratitude? It may be simply that so many of us have been brought up to show stoicism. It may also be that many of us were brought up to believe that overly fulsome expressions of gratitude gave the impression of “brown nosing”. Just musing.

4 Andy K. June 5, 2009 at 2:54 am

This series is possibly the greatest series on a blog I have ever read.

5 Eric June 5, 2009 at 3:15 am

I am grateful for the following:

My children and the way they can always make me feel better about … well…. everything.
My wonderful girlfriend for getting me off my lazy butt and go hiking.
Also, for my girlfriend for the way she makes me laugh…as if I hadn’t in years.
I’m grateful for my bosses being as understanding as they have been when it comes to my divorce and custody battle.
My ex-wife…yes I am grateful towards my ex…for teaching me a few things about myself I never would have learned had it not been for going through this fairly difficult experience with her.
I am EXTREMELY grateful for the gift I have to play music and express myself through song …. ( drums…. )
I am grateful to have the opportunity to hike to the tops of mountains and feel the fresh air and share it with my girlfriend.

That’s what I got for now…..

6 Mickey June 5, 2009 at 3:35 am

I shall start on my today list of being grateful by being grateful to you: this series comes in a very timely manner in a moment of life in which I am asking myself exactly who I am and who I want to be.

Since the first of June you have given me incredible amounts of food for thought and introspection, and I really love that.

So, thank you AoM, because you are the reason I am already a better person!

7 Jason Legendre June 5, 2009 at 4:59 am

Thanks guys, great article. This helped remind me I owe a couple of my coworkers a big thanks so I’m taking them out to lunch. I’m grateful for the daily AOM e-mail.


8 Paul Kelley June 5, 2009 at 6:18 am

I’m sure many people will also respond in kind, a few already have, but at risk of being unoriginal this seems like the perfect opportunity to express my gratitude to you Mr. McKay.
I’ve wanted to say thanks to you for some time now, your site has motivated and entertained me since I discovered it several months ago. I believe that the articles you and your associates have written here have contributed to my understanding of what it means to be a man, and my drive to make something better of myself, and you have helped me to take an active interest in areas in my life that sorely needed attention.
For all this I am indebted to you Brett, thank you for taking the time and effort to help and inspire me, and all the other men (and women) who follow this site.
I hope that we can help you in your own effort to be a better man, And I wish you success in all your endeavors.

Best regards

9 Dan June 5, 2009 at 6:29 am

Fantastic post. Truly one of your best.

10 Brett June 5, 2009 at 7:37 am

Thank you for the kind words everyone. They truly warm my soul. And I am in turn thankful for wonderful readers like you.

11 Jack June 5, 2009 at 7:59 am

Dang, I don’t know if its all that soy milk I drank today but those two stories were tear jerkers!

Gratitude and humbleness can be tough for me. I often feel that when I show gratitude that it comes off as fake or out of obligation. Ugh….better get crackin on the next task…

12 Nick G June 5, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Hey guys,

If any of you have seen The Secret, it has a little bit on gratitude and gratitude rocks. For gratitude rocks — pick out any two stones that are very special to you. They can be from your garden or from the nearest river. Whatever suits you best. Carry them in your pockets and every time you touch them, think of something you are grateful for.

Try it out!

13 duschko June 5, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Very well written. Nice one. Keep up the good work.

14 Ex Wife December 17, 2009 at 2:07 am

Wow! This article is so powerful that it prompted my husband of 23 years to look up an ex flame (“to show his gratitude”) and throw away his marriage!

15 1916home.net December 30, 2009 at 1:55 am

@Ex Wife

Whats was THAT about! I doubt a blog post is going to take down a marriage. Sounds like your marriage was trouble in the making for a while.

16 Rob January 4, 2010 at 10:33 am

I don’t believe in God or a god, so I don’t believe you can be thankful for things that weren’t due to a person. I would substitute the word “gladness” for “gratitude” in those cases.

17 Aaron Highsmith February 20, 2010 at 1:18 am

I am currently deployed to Kuwait and doing convoy missions in Iraq. When we were at pre-deployment training I was miserable and constantly angry. I started to realize, though, how blessed I am and I started being grateful; in my case to my creator. I rededicated myself to the religion of my youth. Ever since I experienced that change my life has been a lot better. I’m thankful for all the many blessings that I have, realizing that many people don’t have it as good as I do.

The main thing is that once i started being thankful, I had a better attitude. Having a better attitude made it easier to face adversity and stress and generally made my life easier. My life being easier made it easier to be thankful and have an even better attitude. It’s just this cycle of awesomeness. I really can’t think of another way to phrase it.

I’m particularly thankful to the founder of this blog and it’s many contributors. Most of the virtues mentioned on this blog are virtues that I’ve already had, but just didn’t analyze them the way that it’s done here; and most of the advice for interactions with others is stuff that I’ve already been doing, but now I have a better understanding of the motivations behind these actions and the far reaching benefit of them.

18 Jesse February 26, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Mr. Highsmith,

Thank you for the sacrifices you have made for this country and for the people of Iraq. I truly appreciate you courage and dedication to liberty. Stay safe and come home in one piece.

Most Respectfully,
Jesse Laser

19 Win L March 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Watch the film “Sherlock Holmes” at the part when Holmes is telling is best friend Watson how grateful he felt that Watson survived from the explosion. This is how difficult it is for a man to express his thankfulness for others, and it’s what we have to do in friendship.

20 Ron April 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I’m not finished completing the “Gratitude” task, but I wanted to comment before I got offline.
As many of us notice, some of the tasks in the “30 Days…” exercise are things we already had a vague idea were important to us being better men. The “Gratitude” task was like that for me, and it reminded me not to FORGET those things and people we are grateful for.
My similar exercise, after reading it somewhere, changed the way I faced each day.
Instead of grumbling that I had to get up; I started with what’s going right so far.
People began to notice that I arrived at work a little more chipper than some.
It goes something like this:
I wake up on a cold Winter’s day under cozy cover.
The house made it throught the night,
my wife is still alive,warm and breathing softly next to me..
The furnace didn’t break down.
My cheap little automatic coffee maker kicked on as scheduled
and I walk in to my kitchen to a wonderful aroma and a tasty, hot cup of coffee.
I turn on the radio and classical music quietly plays in the semi-darkness.
Now I’m standing in a steaming shower,
God bless whoever invented the hot water heater!!
My day is going GREAT so far!
I climb into fresh smelling, laundered clothes.
I have a car! I have a car! (It’s old- but it works)
I get to work (I still have a job!)
Well..you get the idea. These are such LITTLE things but when I remember to remember how much I appreciate things, I am CRAZY grateful
for just having another day of life.
Thanks for this article, and reminding me about gratitude.

21 Robert Christiansen April 22, 2010 at 12:05 am

I am a survivor of cancer and I have a great deal to be grateful for and a good many people that helped me and my family during this desperate time. My list could number twenty people. But I have cut it down to my oldest son , my wife and my employer .
1) My son was in 9th grade and stepped up and was a true man through the whole ordeal . I am so grateful to him for not giving his mother any grief or trouble and not straying off and getting in trouble while I was down.
2) My wife for enduring the punishing treatments with me . She never cried in front of me and had to deal with me as an almost invalid , managing my meds. and truly helping me rebuilding my life.
3)My employer for truly being the best electrical contractor I have ever worked for . He is a man with a lot of heart.
I am a very lucky man THANK YOU VERY MUCH !

22 Kyle May 27, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Great posting, and I love the thread….

But it’s a little obnoxious to assume that every guy reading this is straight.
Being manly is for gay guys too.

And for those who think not using inclusive language isn’t a big deal – your opinion on willingness to “let it go” or thinking it’s “no big deal” only counts if you’re PART of the group that isn’t being included.

Fair is fair. *grin*

23 Jonathan October 18, 2012 at 12:55 am

This is so odd i am reading this now, i just emailed my least liked teacher in highschool thanking her for taking her time out to help me study. Crazy right?

24 Heather Tomasello October 30, 2012 at 9:01 am

I am not a man, but I am a woman who volunteers with an English as a Second Language women’s conversational group at my local university. I can’t wait to share this with my ladies! We are focusing this week on thankfulness (in light of Thanksgiving approaching.) This was exactly what I needed. Thanks!

25 Christian February 6, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I’m thankful for this article and this website that is making me into the man I want to be.

26 Alexander Connell February 18, 2013 at 10:00 am

What 10 things am I thankful for?
1. Coffee
Over the yearss, I’ve become a bit of a coffee snob but my morning drink makes the start to the day so much more pleasurable and the rest of the day better.

2. Beer
In all these years, I’ve never come across a drink I enjoy more.

3. Cycling
The one activity in my life I would miss the most should I need to give it up. My bike is my therapist.

4. My Dogs
It took me 30 years to discover the joy of living with dogs. How could I manage without them.

5. Health
Middle age has brought its challenges. But I have all 5 of my senses, and can do pretty much any activity I want. That’s worth more than almost anything.

6. Wife
In 20 years of marriage, we’ve had our ups and downs. But mostly ups and I can’t imagine life without her.

7. My Job
Without it, everything else would come crashing down.

8. Being able to live in Colorado
Just a quick drive around the neighborhood is enough reminder of how fortunate I am to live here.

9. Friends
I know I need to work at cultivating more friends. But I’m very grateful for the ones I have. For giving me perspective, making me laugh and sharing the fun of their lives.

10. My iPod
For opening up my world to undiscovered music, podcasts and the all joy of audio.

Who did I thank today?
My favorite 2 friends, for coming out with us and spending time on a Sunday walking our dogs.

The staff at the restaurant where we had lunch, for preparing our meal and making the experience so pleasurable.

My wife, for working hard to take care of her health, even on days when she’d rather not. And for supporting my efforts to take care of mine.

27 Tiancheng April 22, 2013 at 5:45 am

I’ve missed a couple of days, but I still wish to hold my self accountable for this 30-day consecutive training towards a better man. So here I’m striving to catch up, from Day 5 to present day, … Day 11.

7 things I’m grate for:

1. The great girlfriend – wife soon she will be – the Holy Heaven has granted to accompany me. Despite her origin, she’s enlightened me in many ways. I truly regard her as the “other half” who could always hold me accountable for life and its ongoing changes. I should cherish this relationship and regard it the best gift from my home year of Dragon 2012~3.

2. Dad is willing to pay for my continuing school – I am ambitious with my plan of “Back to the U.S.” and hope the coming couple of years I may, through handwork and persistence, root my future family in or around New York City. For a nerd who’s apparently not capable of entrepreneurship or starting ventures of any kind, neither capable of flourishing in STEM subjects to obtain a life safety guarantee through a doctorate degree, it seems essential for a significant second-time investment for me to wrap up and get readily for stage again. At all times I shall be grateful for this one-year course of recharging and surviving opportunities.

3. Speaking of time, I got ample of it just at present. It’s a period for me to cultivate good habits. Through 1 coming due exam, 8 swimming sessions, around ten books to be read, courses followed, and movies checked-out. Time is precious and I’d be thankful for that, an attitude which is a prerequisite for me to hold before better utilizing the period.

4. I’m still a person with stories and experiences. How much have I learnt through those is only avail to myself. I lost my Up with People journal book, and memories of conversations with people such as Cai Yun and Kenny Choi, but it didn’t mean the impact they have had on me would fade away. They would exert long-term inspirations. And I will systematically reorganize those cognitive reshapes and reformations to better preserve their positive-impacting values.

5. I know clearly about the areas I demonstrate needs of improvements. Health, people skills, humbleness, and innovations (willing to take greater risks) along with commitments (be persistent once setting up a goal) are among those areas of growth potentials. I acquired an important skill of reflection, which is something I shall be grateful to.

6. I was to a larger extent exposed to the world, through traveling, reading and talking with people. I got to be aware of the possible opportunities, got to know and established connections with some great minds, which certainly would help me make better informed decisions in future. I’m in a sense immersed with very supportive resources.

7. And I’m only 24, still very young, capable and ambitious, ready to try out everything and set out sail with a major section of great life.

Regarding Task 2, I caught up with Dazhi and gladly heard he’s taking my advice in learning English – comprehending and reciting NCE II one text every other day. I expressed gratitude to girlfriend and, in a more subtle way, my dad.

28 Scott L. April 24, 2013 at 10:22 am

I am grateful to you, for this website. My upbringing lacked some depth and substance. This website fills in a lot of empty spaces and answers a lot of questions for us. Thank YOU!

29 Princefigs June 5, 2013 at 3:30 am

AoM has really opened my eyes to the world that I was trying hard to remove myself from. How dramatically can a man change his life in a day? We are going to find out.

30 Mr Bill July 9, 2013 at 2:08 pm

1. My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and all that he did and continues to do for me personally
2. A loving, long-suffering wife that puts up with me and is my balance in this marriage and life
3. Intelligent children who constantly amaze me with the things they come up with
4. Family farm to raise my kids with the knowledge of where their food comes from
5. Paid for vehicles; car and pickup truck
6. Ambition and ingenuity to be able to work different jobs on the farm while suffering from a disability
7. Having a bucket tractor with numerous implements to be able to dig, move things around, mow, rake, dig postholes, cultivate, etc… It saves so much time and is a big help to this disabled dude
8. The foresight to make raised garden beds before the disability caught up with me. We aren’t dealing with the flooding out of gardens that plague others this year. They are easy to weed, easy to cultivate and harvest, even from a wheelchair
9. My former company (The bosses are well aware of my gratitude) who had the best benefit plan in the business, of which I used to its fullest extent
10. For this United States and the Social Security Administration, frustrating as they are, that our Congressmen put in place a way to help its citizens who were in need. I’m grateful to be a recipient of that help

31 Rainer Proksch August 23, 2013 at 7:33 am

We should always show our gratitude to the one’s who have helped us or was with us in our times of need. Sometimes it may be their small help that helped us to be what we are now.

32 Juan Carlos December 30, 2013 at 9:10 am

thanks to Brett & Kate Mckay for writing such an inspiring article.

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