The power of gratitude


It was August and I was listening to my 99 year old friend Victor Tynes sing “What A Wonderful World.” I sat in awe as his smooth tenor voice sang every word with conviction and heart. One year shy of 100 and he sounded like a professional performing in a jazz club. Early in Victor’s life he performed with Louis Armstrong, and afterwards he had a successful career as a dentist. Today, he is a beloved father, grandfather, and has a long list of close friends. Victor has a contagious sense of optimism and superb physical health. He still drives, sings in the choir, and leads a book group. I asked him once what has kept him so vibrant and happy. He smiled and said, “Gratitude.”

Positive psychologist and Harvard Professor Shawn Anchor says: “The power of gratitude is not only one of the fastest ways to raise the level of happiness, it literally transforms your health.” It also plays a role in your success. Students, however, don’t always understand this. Many students believe that success precedes happiness, but it is the other way around. When the brain is in a positive state, intelligence, creativity, performance, and energy increases, while stress decreases.

Anchor says, “You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body.” He challenges students to the 21 Day Challenge, which includes: writing down three things you are grateful for each day, journaling about one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours, exercising for 10 minutes, meditating for 2 minutes, and sending one email each day thanking someone in your life.

Of these five positivity habits, the most powerful is gratitude. It is also a highly profitable concept. A recent Gallup study reveals companies that foster recognition and praise outperform their competition in several key business metrics.

As a college speaker and executive coach, I remind my students and business clients of the benefits of expressing gratitude, even with a simple thank you. It inspires others, and aids in your own success.

There will always be forces that tug toward the negative road, like exams, being overly committed and stressed, and miscommunication between friends, but focusing on them is not the path to success. It begins with seeing the good in life. Today, I am grateful for the clear winter nights, a creative idea at work, a meaningful conversation with a friend, and the privilege of knowing Victor Tynes.

What are you grateful for? How will this focus change your outlook today?

Credit // Author: Elaine Penn

Elaine Penn incorporates the power of storytelling to move students emotionally and intellectually. She uses her abilities as a coach and teacher to take students on an inspirational journey that changes how they think, feel, and act. Sharing pivotal lessons about leadership, diversity, and the effects of positivity, she helps students transform the culture of their organizations and campus. Learn more at