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Gratitude, Creativity, & The 30 Days/300 Things Gratitude Challenge

Does receiving gratitude inspire you to more creative action? Is it easy for you to express it? Is it easy for you to receive it? Dare I ask, are there ‘advantages’ for creative practitioners and entrepreneurs to practicing gratitude? Those questions I’ve been living in for a few weeks.

Entrepreneur and perspiration guru Scott Belsky learned the power of appreciation from a storyteller. The author of Making Ideas Happen describes his experience at storyteller Jay O’Callahan’s storytelling workshop in Cape Cod. As part of a workshop exercise, Belsky told a story. O’Callahan respond with genuine enthusiasm, and other participants did likewise. Belsky was riveted and warmed, but he was ready and eager for the critique. The critique never came.

O’Callahan uses a technique he calls “appreciations.” Simply put, people highlight one another’s strengths and encourage a person to build upon what’s working. Such encouragement fuels people to keep working and creating at their best rather than obsess with what’s wrong.

People need to relax to be able to discover,” O’Callahan explains to Belsky. “The unconscious won’t come forward and help us see things when we are too logical and focused on criticism.”

This positive focus on what works challenges some writers and artists who attend my workshops. Steeped in MFA programs, several writers and artists become accustomed to highly analytical critique sessions as the only and best way to learn and hone your craft. They equate acute criticism with astute skill in their professors and peers. One of the options we use for creative feedback in my workshops is to ask for “what works” or “what you liked.” It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for the positive. It’s a sign that you know what you need at a certain point in your creative process.

Gratitude can open and in turn motivate creative practitioners. Granted, we want to act out of gratitude for gratitude’s sake. But it doesn’t hurt to consider its benefits to your creativity. Gratitude shifts focus away from our wheeling minds and toward another human being, toward inventions and objects, and toward the natural world. Whether we’re grateful for dawn, a colleague, or the invention of paperclips or iPhones, our imaginations might light on an idea for writing an ode or designing a product or crafting an intimate and original expression of gratitude.

Happiness motivates many of us creatives and entrepreneurs. Acts of kindness and gratitude – no surprise – correlate to more positive emotions. The work of Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California shows that people who perform five acts of kindness in the same day toward five different people feel happier. The founder of Positive Psychology Dr. Martin Seligman includes gratitude as one of our key human strengths that we can draw upon for a fulfilled life. Greg Archer of Huffington Post lists several recent books devoted to the science of gratitude.

Successful entrepreneurs and leaders express genuine gratitude. They don’t show gratitude simply because they know they’ll get something in return. They do it because it’s become a part of who they are, how they lead, and how they serve and work with their clients.

Graphic designer-turned-graphic artist Marian Bantjes sends inventive, intimate expressions of gratitude to her clients every year. In 2010, she asked her clients to send her old Christmas cards. With laser printing, she created from those cards wildly original and beautiful valentines. She’s also sent them poetic reflections on their amazing self-worth, handwritten on exquisite paper. If you’re lucky enough to be one of Bantjes’ clients, such intimate, deliberate acts cannot help but startle a smile and motivate you to aspire toward more gratitude yourself. It’s not uncommon for me to send a client a book that he or she might appreciate.

Gratitude also can fuel creative collaboration. Granted deeply entwined creative couples might not expend much time thanking each other. The writer/illustrator couple Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr of Idiots’Books seem to feed on criticism more than compliments. Still, I imagine Sartre slipping a note on deBeauvoir’s desk every once in a while that says something like, “Thanks for the conversation last night on nothingness. I think I have an idea for a book,” which in turn just lit up deBeauvoir to finish her own next book. So if you work with and/or live with someone who recently has offered an idea – however unwittingly – that has fed one of your projects, thank that person.

I am grateful every day for the clients with whom I work, for my partner in creative living, and for the myriad 10,000 things that bring me delight, insight, and meaning.


This is the 30 Days/300 Things of Gratitude Challenge I’ve given myself during November: Every morning, write down 10 things for which I am grateful. I’m on #151. The challenge, of course, stretches you to feel gratitude beyond the obvious “my friends, family, and health.” It demands you get specific. Which friends? What part of your health? After about #50, you really search your heart and surroundings to realize how much there is to be grateful for. There are no rules other than what you give yourself. These are the rules I give myself:

1. Try to write the list first thing in the morning.

2. Be specific.

3. Honor your quirks. Don’t care if anyone else would understand what you list.

4. Let the list trigger creative action. Write, design, send a note, develop a gratitude project & broadcast it on the Internet. Now I’m concocting something unique for my clients for the end of the year. It also has fed an idea for a poem called “For the Birds.”

Feel free to share from your list here in the Hut as often and as much as you wish. I’d also love to hear your responses to the questions of gratitude I’m living in – Does receiving gratitude inspire you to more creative action? Is it easy for you to express it? Dare I ask, are there ‘advantages’ for creative practitioners and entrepreneurs to practicing gratitude?

Stay tuned. I’ve posed these questions to some innovators in different fields. I’ll share some of their replies.

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If you’re hungry to live, work, and lead with more delight and wonder, send me an email with “Wild Pack” in the subject box. I’ll send you TRACKING WONDER HANDBOOK ONE: 5 Ways to Bring More Delight, Curiosity, & Deep Connection to Your Professional & Personal Life. If you like what you read, all I ask is that you send a note to 20 other people letting them know about A Hut of Questions and the work at trackingwonder.com. No obligations, though.

See you in the woods,

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