I attended a memorial service for an amazing woman named Mary a few weeks ago. She passed away after fighting a long and challenging battle with pancreatic cancer. Her memorial service, like most, was filled with sadness, but it was also a celebration of how she lived her life—a tribute to a woman who had lived with courage, kindness and gratitude. Mary lived a life of giving to others, and was an example of moral strength and goodness. The memorial was an opportunity for others to share the impact she had on them. It was a healthy reminder that life is a journey—and a short one at that. We all know that life is full of ups and downs, and the way Mary lived hers was a reminder that regardless of how challenging the downs get, we can choose how we face and frame them and live through them each day.
You get to choose your attitude every day
The stories shared at Mary’s memorial were a reminder that a rich life is not one full of material wealth, accolades and accomplishments, but rather a life lived in the trenches with a positive attitude, where you put others first, and where joy is found in the moments spent with others. Mary was a woman who lived her life grateful for all she had. And while I’m sure she wasn’t grateful for cancer, the way she coped with it was with a determined and joyous spirit that positively impacted the lives of so many. As I reflected on the lessons learned from Mary’s life, I realized how much time I waste wrapped up in the challenges of business that tend to drag me under clouds of pointless negativity. The finality of Mary’s death made me look at my challenges through a new lens. It was a reminder that our challenges help to define us positively as much as they do negatively. And while circumstances might trigger challenges, we choose the attitude with which we approach them.
Be the grateful living
In some ways, we all need to attend a memorial every once in a while to remind us to step back and take stock of what’s around us and how good it is to be alive. While I’m not advocating that we should ask for more challenges, we do need a reminder to be grateful for the life we have, for the people around us, and to embrace our challenges because we’ve all been reminded that we only get one life. Each challenge we face is an opportunity to adjust and improve our behaviors and the way we treat others—and to improve our own spirit, making the most out of every day. I left Mary’s memorial service with a commitment to be grateful for all that I have, thankful for life and who I share mine with, and a newfound spirit to be open to what my challenges can teach me. I am grateful to Mary.
It’s way better to give than it is to receive
Mary’s memorial was a timely reminder heading into Thanksgiving. As a Brit, Thanksgiving has always been a holiday where I felt like an imposter because I didn’t grow up with it as a tradition. Sitting around a table once a year to say thanks never really felt authentic—but this year was different. After becoming a citizen in April, I spent time thinking about how appreciative I am for all this country represents, and like millions of others, how fortunate I was to be sitting around a table with family and food. I found myself more grateful than I’ve ever been and more thankful for my personal journey. As we move towards the end of the year, December and the holiday season is filled with a different type of energy. We are more likely to think of others rather than ourselves and there is something special about the season that brings out the best in people, connecting us in unique ways.
Give the daily gratitude attitude a go
Imagine how different our days would be if we took a grateful, giving attitude with us throughout the entire year, into the workplace, and with all of our relationships. As I think about how to go through life, and how I impact others, people like Mary are examples of how to live with gratitude. And while we don’t need any more lists, the following common sense “grateful” principles are appropriate to share for the season, and the year ahead.
1. Think of others before you think of yourself
2. Be grateful for the day you’ve lived
3. Be grateful for the day ahead
3. When you say thank you, mean it
4. Small, thoughtful gestures mean a lot
5. Be grateful for what you have—and what you don’t
6. To give is much better than to receive
7. Sincerity trumps superficiality
8. Live in the moment
9. Life is a journey, be grateful for the ride
10. Appreciate a challenge as a learning moment
Shawn Parr is the CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego. Clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.
[Image: Flickr user labutle]