On Gratitude, With Gratitude

Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s UC Berkeley commencement speech, our CEO talks about gratitude and its role in his own life.

by Chris Little

This month, in her UC Berkeley commencement speech, Sheryl Sandberg spoke publicly about her husband's death for the first time. On grief, gratitude, resilience, and the light within us, she imparts moving stories, deep insights, and compelling wisdom. Inspired by her example, and reminded that all of us have an opportunity to bring a bit more humanity to business, I decided to amplify the ripple a little. Here are just a few snippets from Sheryl, with some of my own thoughts in between.

“Dave’s death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void—or in the face of any challenge—you can choose joy and meaning.”

Sheryl Sandberg and husband Dave

We know from great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai that the closer you get to the bottom, the more force you can exert against it, so that not only can you surface and breathe again, but you can propel through the surface with powerful momentum, soar high above the water, and inspire others to follow.

“Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience. People who take the time to list things they are grateful for are happier and healthier. It turns out that counting your blessings can actually increase your blessings.”

True to this advice and following our children’s example, my wife Tori and I embraced a practice of sharing each night our rose, the bright spot of our day, our thorn, a source of pain or hurt, and our bud, an aspect of our day that has potential to become a rose if we choose to put in the work. At the beginning, bound by the system perhaps, we shared one of each. Now just a few months later, we each cite numerous roses, occasionally a bud, and rarely a thorn.

“It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude—gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children. My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude—not just on the good days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it.”

For years I was extremely sad that I had my parents for only 9 years and 14 years. Then at some point I realized that even in relation to these unwelcome events, I had choice. Now I am extremely thankful that I had Daddy and Mammy for all of 9 and 14 years, and this sense of gratitude, never to be taken for granted, permeates my whole life. Indeed even, and especially, in grief and other life setbacks, you can find deep gratitude, joy, and meaning.

In his On Being interview with Krista Tippett, entitled “Anatomy of Gratitude”, 90-year-old monk Brother David Steindl-Rast says “There are many things for which you cannot be grateful. But in every moment, you can be grateful.” He elaborates on this throughout the interview and also in his TED talk “Want to be happy? Be grateful.” And if you have only 10 minutes and like breathtaking pictures of nature, here's another gem that features Steindl-Rast's voice: Louie Schwartzberg's TEDx talk on "Nature, Beauty, Gratitude".

With gratitude…

Louie Schwartzberg Mountain Image

In honor of Colm O'Briain and his family

Image Credit: REUTERS/Rick Wilking; Culture Unplugged/Louie Schwartzberg
Chris Little
Chris Little
Chairman and Founder
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