Most of us understand, in a vague and general sense, that it’s “good” to be thankful. We’re raised to be appreciative of the things we have; our parents teach us to say “please” and “thank you.”
As we get older, though, gratitude doesn’t come up as often. No one reprimands a 35-year-old for forgetting to say thanks, and maybe it even feels like we have less to be thankful for overall. When you spend the day sitting in traffic, or that big deal you were hoping to land falls through, it can be tough to see the good in all the bad.
“You know, what we’re all very, very good at is explaining the things that we’re pissed off about, the things that aren’t going right, the things we screwed up,” Ricky Mendez chuckles. “We’re so good at sharing that in detail, our brain literally forgets: There’s a hell of a lot of awesome s–t out there too.”
As an implementational speaker whose workshops help individuals and businesses alike maximize their impact, Mendez—who calls himself a “gratitude enthusiast”—talks a lot about how being thankful can also be a means to greater success in just about every area of our lives.
For example, did you know that gratitude isn’t just good in a moral sense? Researchers have found that gratitude impacts physical and mental health, correlating to lower blood pressure and heart rate and possibly even better sleep quality. Other studies have found that gratitude builds stronger relationships and that managers who thank their employees find those employees are more motivated in their work.
Of course, it’s one thing to know that gratitude is good for you; it’s another to learn how to be grateful. Mendez understands that negativity and pessimism are constant forces in our lives—“which is good, because it builds muscle,” he says. “It builds mental fortitude. It builds resilience.” Interestingly, the negatives are where Mendez often begins when challenging people to introduce gratitude—by asking them to think about the things that make them angry or frustrated and then find what self-help author Napoleon Hill called the “seed of equivalent benefit.”
Were you stuck in a traffic jam on the way home from work? How lucky that you weren’t involved in the fender-bender that caused the backup. Did a deal fall through? This is a learning experience! Now you have a chance to take an account of what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Mendez explains, “I can go down a negative, pessimistic rabbit hole or I can go down a positive, empowered rabbit hole.” Learning to do the latter takes time, but this state of mind can impact the way you think, act and achieve, at home and in the workplace.
As an employee or a manager, being a more gratitude-filled, positive person can help attract more positive people into your sphere, ultimately making your workplace a more empowering and satisfying place to be. When you’re full of gratitude, the people who are drawn to your energy tend to be folks who are full of gratitude, too.
“I’m just not around the people I used to be around [who] are constantly, constantly negative,” Mendez says. “I wish them luck; I don’t judge them—it’s just not the route that I’m going.” Gratitude and optimism can also look like confidence and self-assurance, and when you bring that energy and personality into the workplace, the people who you connect with tend to be the optimistic, the positive, the empowered—the people who are going places.
Gratitude can also have an enormous impact on entrepreneurs—who know how challenging it is to operate a profitable, consistent business that’s making a difference in the world—by making sure that their own negative feelings don’t become an obstacle. Mendez explains that if you’re able to take a negative and find the positive in it, you can avoid getting sucked into a hole of self-pity and self-doubt and move on more quickly to the things that matter. In other words, not getting bogged down in the negative is actually a time-saving method.
Mendez’s methods involve integrating gratitude into everyday life—not just thinking about it once and moving on. “Everybody thinks that the universe will reward scale,” he says.
It’s not uncommon for him to talk to folks who then go home, spend hours writing a gratitude poem and post it all over social media—and then never take another look at what it means to be grateful again. “The universe isn’t going to reward scale,” Mendez says. “It will reward consistency.”
If you can spend 40 seconds a day being consciously thankful and finding those seeds of equivalent benefit, you’re going to see a much more long-term impact, he says. At a certain point, that thankfulness will start to become second nature—your brain can be rewired to find the positive with less conscious work on your part.
Yes, it’s much easier to be positive when everything feels hunky-dory. The trick is to figure out how to be grateful when things feel horrible and then train your brain to find that correlatory positive to each negative.
And it can be done. Mendez says his sunny outlook and eminent optimism often cause folks who know him to smile and shake their heads and say, “Oh, that’s just Ricky; he’s just like that.” But his positive mindset and the success it’s helped him achieve in his speaking practice are results of his actively working to be a grateful, positive person.
“I work on it. Every day,” Mendez says. “It’s a skill set, just like your job, just like anything people do…. It’s a skill set that we just don’t think to develop.”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos courtesy Shutterstock and Ricky Mendez