Every once in a while, I’ll pick up the phone and call my grandmother in Ohio before she has the chance to call me and ask why I haven’t contacted her in over a week. As soon as she picks up the phone, I immediately start singing the lyrics to Stevie Wonder’s hit song, “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” If you don’t know the song, I’ll give you a temporary late pass until you click the link and listen. It’s a beautiful melody with this catchy chorus:

I just called to say I love you
I just called to say how much I care
I just called to say I love you
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart

I sing the entire chorus as she starts chuckling on the other end of the phone. By the time I’m done, I know she’s making that sentimental Grama face that says she’s happy and about to cry. I ask her how she’s doing, and I actually listen – no matter what I’m doing, no matter how many deadlines I’m sitting on.
This is my way of expressing gratitude to my grandmother. This is how I tell her ‘thank you.’

My mother had me when she was in the 10th grade and Grama was the one who raised me while my mom finished high school and went on to college. Grama was the one who taught me how to read when I was four years old. I still have the Dr. Seuss books she used – Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, In a People House. Although we never had much money, Grama was the one who made sure I had good memories of Christmastime and birthdays. She always made sure I had a birthday cake. She used to special order a fresh strawberry shortcake from the Puritan Bakery across town, just for me. She called me her little Strawberry Shortcake. Remember the cartoon character from the 80s? She even bought me the doll and took it to a dollmaker to have her face painted brown instead of white so she looked more like me. I loved that doll. But more than that, I loved myself, in my own skin.

The gift of a grandmother’s love is priceless. And most of the time we take it for granted. But I find that when I do take a few moments to acknowledge her role in my life, everything becomes much clearer. Life just seems more awesome. Gratitude can do that.

I recently came across an amazing website called Five Daily Gratitudes, an online community gratitude journal started by Marcos Salazar as a “positive psychology tool that helps you integrate the power of gratitude into your life by providing a quick and easy way to list five things you are thankful for each day.” I love it. And it’s good for my mental health and stability as a leader. Marcos points out what UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons has demonstrated in his research:

The evidence that cultivating gratefulness is good for you is overwhelming. Gratitude is a quality that we should aspire to as a part and parcel of personal growth…Specifically, we have shown that gratitude is positively related to such critical outcomes as life satisfaction, vitality, happiness, self-esteem, optimism, hope, empathy, and willingness to provide emotional and tangible support for other people, whereas being ungrateful is related to anxiety, depression, envy, materialism, and loneliness.

Much of Emmons’ work is based on the ideas of Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology and the author of Authentic Happiness. Seligman’s research shows that it is possible to be happier — to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances.

Indeed, in times such as these – when folks are still losing their nonprofit jobs even after news of a “recovery” and the need for basic services like food, shelter and clothing are at an all-time high – we need more gratitude. More optimism. Not more stuff to be happy about, just simply more expressions of being grateful for what we already have or experiences we’ve had in the past.

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle. – Albert Einstein

How are you living?