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The Great Need for Gratitude

It’s 2006, and Randy Pausch is living his best life. He loves his wife, he loves his three young kiddos, and he’s a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. In Sept of that year, he goes to the doctor with upper GI pain and jaundice, thinking that he may have hepatitis. After initial testing, he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He undergoes surgery and chemo to slow the disease progression, and less than a year later, he is told that he has three to six months of good health left.


He is asked to give a “Last Lecture,” generally a speech for a retiring professor to share the legacy of their knowledge and experiences. What important lessons would that teacher want their students to learn if they were suddenly to be gone tomorrow?


Randy gave his last lecture in Sept 2007 in front of an audience of 400, made up mostly of his colleagues and students. The lecture was recorded, and his upbeat delivery, positive messages about living your life right now, and playing the hand you’ve been dealt have been viewed more than 21 million times on YouTube. Before his death in 2008, he became a motivational speaker, and his book, The Last Lecture, is an international best-seller to this day.


One of Randy’s key points was this: “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest and yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.” Gratitude is simple, and appreciating a person, an event, or a gesture requires little time and effort. Not only does saying “thank you” provide positive benefits for the person on the receiving end, studies show that feeling grateful alters brain chemistry, making a person feel happier and more content. Showing gratitude is literally so dynamic that it can physically change your life.


In life and in leadership, you must express thanks and appreciation for the people, things, and situations around you. You don’t have to be faced with a life-defining circumstance in order to acknowledge the hundreds and thousands of positives that you experience every day. Instead, take advantage of any moment to recognize the big and the small wins, give a sincere and specific “thank you” to an employee, colleague, family member, or friend, and generate a positive perspective by seeking gratitude in your personal and professional life.


Showing gratitude is simple and powerful: be kind. Smile at a stranger. Say “thank you.” Notice both the small blessings and the big successes. Recognize the good stuff. Share joy. Share laughter. As Randy said, “Time is all you have, and you may find one day that you have less than you think.” Be grateful, and tell someone that you appreciate them and why. Doing so will be restorative for you and for them. Do it now. Carpe diem!


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