Financial columnist and managing director, Formula Capital
How to Use Gratitude to Get Rich
Posted: 10/19/11 03:55 PM ET
"Why am I totally dead broke again?" That's what I thought the last time I had started a business that failed. I had no income. I had just lost a bunch of money investing in my own business. I was in danger of losing my home. I was in danger of losing a marriage (which I eventually lost). And I was bitter.
"Why, once again, am I here?" I had made and lost millions. Couldn't I have held onto one goddamn dime? Just once? How many times do I have to repeat this cycle?
People would say, "Oh go play with your kids. They will cheer you up." No they won't. Kids suck. I would look at my kids in these moments and think, "How the hell am I going to pay for them, let alone play with them."
It starts with the question: How did I get here in the first place? Well,I know the answer, at least for me.
I wasn't grateful for what I had. Else I would've treated these ephemeral things (money, love, health, happiness) with better respect and would have worked harder to hold onto them.
So to peel myself off the floor I have to do the exact opposite of what made me lose everything. But it's hard. It's like if you don't walk for a month then you can't walk because your leg muscles just atrophied. Now you have to rebuild them again through agonizing physical therapy.
I had to rebuild my gratitude muscle. Each and every time. This is the spiritual leg of what I call "the daily practice," which I describe here and in much greater detail in my recent book.
I can see in my emails that people don't want to hear it. They get the need for an idea muscle, the need to have an emotionally healthy life and a strong physical presence. Everyone wants to look like a rock star. Nobody would deny that.
But then you say the word "spiritual" and everyone is like, "What? Are you talking about a god? Because that's science fiction. Are you talking about crystals or kaballah or new age?"
But, ugh. "Spiritual?" What are "spirits" anyway?
People think it means an old man with a beard who created the world 5,000 years ago and now we pray to him. Or they think it means new age magic and kaballah rubber bands or crystals or whatever.
This couldn't be further from the truth. I'm all about making money and being happy, or vice versa. I could care less if there is a god that created the world 5,000 years ago.
Some people think it means "love." I don't really know what love means. I've said "love" a thousand times to a thousand different people. Almost none of them are even facebook friends now. Some of them are dead, long after I ever last spoke with them.
I have a neighbor who is constantly screaming in the middle of the night at her mother. The mother and the grandmother are constantly kicking out the granddaughter. I really dislike them. In fact, the other day I called the police on the granddaughter (pregnant, crying outside, honking her horn at three in the morning to provoke her mother) because she was so loud and Claudia, who is sick, couldn't sleep. They were screaming in their loudest voices.
The next day, the grandmother, who I had never even heard speak before, said to me when I was passing her house, "Hey you! Mind your own fucking business." Am I supposed to love her now?
There's no way I'm going to love her. Maybe Jesus would love her or Buddha or whoever, but I'm not. Nor am I ever going to love people who steal from me. Doesn't matter if they are friends or even family. Someone who prevents me from feeding my kids will not be loved. So what is spiritual?
Exercise the gratitude muscle: (and after this, see my suggestion on going on a gratitude diet)
List on a piece of paper all the problems in your life, for example:
-I lost my job with a bad boss. -I can't get a job. -Every creative act I do is rejected. -My girlfrend/boyfriend cheated on me. -My house is in foreclosure. -I'm working as a bartender even though I really want to be acting or writing a novel or working for a hedge fund. -I work as a janitor when in my old country I used to be a doctor. -My neighbor is too loud. -The IRS is after me.
And so on.
You're not going to love these situations. That's a false spirituality. That's ego. As if you have the power to love (and control) something that you really, deep down, hate. And to try and fill those situations with love can damage the spiritual muscle rather than build it.
So let's meet somewhere in the middle, somewhere where you can build that spiritual muscle. I love my wife and two daughters. That's probably about it. I don't love anything else in the entire world.
Here's how to exercise the gratitude muscle: List all the negative situations in your life. Think of at least one reason for why you are grateful that you are going through each experience. There's always one reason, or you are lying to yourself. For instance, you can be grateful that overcoming this challenge will make you a better person. If you can't think of one good reason, then come back tomorrow and try again. At the very least you can say, "Thank god I'm alive and can try again." I hate the fact that Claudia is sick from Lyme disease. But I'm grateful she's with me, and so many kind people have given advice and ideas for treatment.
Try this (it's hard): Be grateful, all day, for everything you look at no matter how small. They are all there with you right now. It's okay to be thankful for the small things in life also. Respect.
Try this: Every day write five emails to people you are thankful for. Tell them why. This will always remind you to be grateful. Don't forget. It feels good. And after five emails, at least for me, it feels great.
Try this: Keep a gratitude journal. Write down throughout the day the things you are grateful for. The more you do things like this, the more the super-power inside of you will get unleashed. You won't be able to stop it. You will completely transform whether you want to or not. Do it in a small pad so it's easy to pull out and list things.
Remember the downside of not being grateful If all you do is hang out with criminals then eventually you'll become a criminal. It's natural. If all you do is hang out with people who are wealthy, then eventually you will be wealthy. What does this have to do with the spiritual muscle? The gratitude muscle?
It's the same thing with thoughts. If all of your thoughts are about poverty and anger, then that's where you will find yourself -- there's no way to avoid it. Your subliminal wish for poverty will be automatically granted. This is not some "law of attraction" or "secret." Unless you win the lottery, there's no way to be rich if all you think about is your impending poverty and your anger toward it.
I've never met a successful wealthy person who was constantly angry and bitter about how poor they were. Never. Whenever I meet an older person who has built up their wealth and stayed that way, usually what they talk about are the people they are grateful for; grateful for the people who gave them a chance, grateful for the lifestyle they are now living, and so on. I have met many wealthy people who lost it all by not being grateful for what they had. They started cheating: on their wives, on the IRS, on their partners -- and they trivially lost it all. You won't get rich if you are not grateful well before then.
Benefits of being grateful: -You turn a negative thought into a positive thought. This "grateful alchemy" will save your life. Instead of being angry and poverty-stricken (e.g. "I can't do this," "I'm going to run out of money") you will start to figure out how to act on your positive thoughts.
-You're able to see that your current problems are potential sources of creativity. If you are about to be unemployed and you are grateful for that then you will begin to be creative on where your next job can be. This is not to say you are happy about being unemployed. That would be stupid. But just thinking "I'm unemployed -- damnit," will not find you a job. Being grateful for an opportunity for new experiences will force you to be creative.
-Your stomach will stop hurting. My stomach hurts whenever a situation doesn't work out for me. It gets tense. It's like when you roll a bowling bowl down the lane and your body twists almost the way you want the bowling bowl to go. It doesn't work. When I want to control a situation, my stomach hurts. When I'm grateful for the situation I'm in right now, this very second, my stomach stops hurting. My body stops twisting. I stop trying to control the world. When you let the world do what it wants to do, and you are grateful for that world this second, then the world will bend to your gratitude.
-You'll treat with better respect the positive things you do have.
-Most important: All of the other legs in the "the daily practice" get unleashed. It's automatic. Don't believe me on this? I've seen it for myself. It's only when I took it for granted that I lost it all. So why be grateful for just five minutes. Try to do it all day today. In fact...
Go on a grateful diet. Be grateful non-stop for the next 21 days. What could it hurt? Be grateful for every object, person, thought, situation, that enters your mind. All of these are deserving of your gratitude. Do all of the above things for 21 days and your life will be completely transformed. You'll be fully active in the daily practice that I recommend. One might say, why the hell should I be grateful when my girlfriend left me and I lost my job?
I have no clue why it works. But the only way I've been able to pick myself off the floor is to start with building the gratitude muscle. Try it for yourself. Don't believe anything you read on a blog. Even this one. Maybe I want you to be grateful for my own selfish reasons. Experiment on yourself and give it a try.
Life is a game. And failing to exercise the gratitude muscle is a losing strategy.
I hate to quote someone else because then it feels like I'm not "writing." But if you have gratitude for the things around you, then the last lines of "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" (the Gene Wilder version please) will apply to you:
Willy Wonka: Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who got everything he ever wanted.