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Home » The Transformative Power of Gratitude: Katia Sol (Transcript)

The Transformative Power of Gratitude: Katia Sol (Transcript)

Katia Sol at TEDxMission

Full text of transformative education expert Katia Sol’s talk: The Transformative Power of Gratitude at TEDxMission The City2.0 conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Katia Sol – Award-Winning Scholar & Writer

I’m feeling really grateful.

  • Grateful to be here sharing this conference with you today,
  • Grateful to have the opportunity to present,
  • Grateful to have some friends in the audience – friendly faces,
  • Grateful for Madrone Studios – amazing creative space,
  • And the City – all the innovative things that are happening here – the fantastic production team.
  • Just feel really grateful to be alive!

As Adele really beautifully introduced, I work with the Ecology Leadership Program at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas. This program was founded by James Stark and Christopher Kuntzsch. And I’d like to give a little shout out to them.

James is in India right now giving a TEDx talk. Flew all the way around the world. It’s pretty cool that I’m doing this here. And Christopher’s at the Northern California Permaculture Convergence. This is just amazing how these seeds are going out all over the world.

And what we specialize in is ‘Inner permaculture’. So RDI has a bunch of programs that are doing the kinds of things you’ve heard about today: learning about great water systems, and permaculture design, and rescaling, and you know all the different practices that we’re hearing on the outer level.

But what we like to look at is what happens if we take a look at our inner garden?

So what are the shifts that need to happen on an inner level that then will create the possibility for transformation on an outer level that we really want to see in our own lives, in our communities, and in the world?

So in my presentation today I’m going to focus on what we call a deceptively simple but profoundly transformative practice which is ‘Gratitude’.

Now I’d like you to just imagine for a moment…

What it would be like to live in a city founded upon the principle of ‘Gratitude’?

What would it be like if you woke up in the morning, and the first thought that came to your mind was, ‘Wow, I’m just so grateful to have another day to be alive!’?

What would be like if as you left the house in the morning, first person that you ran into, maybe it’s your bus driver, maybe it’s the buddies at the local coffee shop like, ‘Wow, I’m so grateful for you!’ ‘I just love the way that you make those little designs on my coffee, makes me really happy every morning!’?

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Imagine as if we went to the workplace and you talk to your colleagues and you express your gratitude. You know just took that extra moment to be like, you know, ‘I really really am grateful for the work that you’re doing’; really grateful to work at this company; you’re really grateful to your employees, your employer.

Get home from a bit work at the end of a long day and express your gratitude to your spouse, your partner, your housemate.

Go to bed at night with this feeling of gratitude.

What would it be like if we lived in the city founded upon gratitude?

Now some might say that we actually do live in a culture that is based on gratitude. So the first nations are indigenous peoples of this land which I’ve had fortune of working with around the world, practice ‘Thanksgiving’ on a regular basis. And there is something called a ‘Thanksgiving address’ and this is a poster of it that I have in my home.

And it talks about all the different aspects of creation that we’re grateful for, you know, ranging from the earth, to the waters, to the fish, trees, the plants, the Sun, the moon.

And so as we ponder this, you know, idea of dwelling in gratitude, I’d like you to just close your eyes for a moment and connect to something you’re feeling grateful for. I’m going to share a little song, it’s a Gratitude song.

‘Oh! Why say thank you… Oh! Why saying thank you!

Oh great spirit! In this way, I long to give my life to you!

In love and devotion, in love and devotion!

we a hey, ah we a hey, oh hey oh hey oh!’

So just let that little bit of gratitude sink in, hold on to it. Maybe when we’re done you can share it with your neighbour, person sitting next to you.

I am going to take you on a little journey into how gratitude became a really central part of my life.

I was living in Canada in the midst of a very snowy winter 2007. There was a feet and feet of snow and I was going through a really really hard time in my life.

So I was somebody who actually had had a pretty easeful life up until that point in time, you know, things seemed to come easily to me. It wasn’t really… I hadn’t found myself in a moment of deep challenge.

But there was, you know, I had a relationship that was falling apart and I had a young baby year-old. I was starting a PhD program. I was in a new city where I didn’t know anybody. And suddenly I found myself having trouble just even getting out of bedroom in the morning.

So every day I would wake up and I would have to struggle to find you know like, ‘What is the reason to get out of bed? What is it that can really help me get through the day?’

And as I would get out of bed, I would get dressed, to get my laptop, get ready to go to school, get my snow gear on and jacket and my toque, and get ready my snow boots, get ready to charge out into the winter cold, I would root in the practice of gratitude.

So I found that if I just dug deep and found the one thing that I was grateful for, I could make it. I could make it to the subway, if I just focused on.

  • I’m really grateful for my legs that can walk. There’s lots of people around the world who actually don’t have that privilege…
  • I’m really grateful for my breath. Just the ability to breathe in and out.
  • I’m grateful for my eyes that can see
  • Grateful to have arms that can hold my baby.

Now I’m just grateful!

And it was that practice that really got me through those really dark and deep days. Even though I’d worked with indigenous cultures around the world and even though I’d been exposed to this on some level, I’d like to think that I just kind of came to it as it’s almost like it saved my life. It was just rooting in that gratitude that got me through that time.

Fast forward a couple of years, I came out to California and encountered the Ecology of Leadership program. And I was really stunned to find the gratitude was a regular part of what they were practicing in the program.

So as I began my meetings with my co-workers, we would start every single meeting with gratitude. Imagine that. You know you’ve got an hour-long meeting to take the first ten minutes and just talk about what you’re grateful for. I was kind of like, ‘Whoa, this is revolutionary!’

But we would just go around and around. It wasn’t just one thing, you know. It was like hearing like 10, 20, 30 things each person was feeling grateful for. And it really changed my mind what was possible in an organizational culture.

And then as we started, I was doing my PhD research on the program and its transformative impacts, I got to see in a circle of people what would be possible as you created a culture of gratitude.

So every weekend when the group gathered, everybody would sit down and think ‘What is something that everyone in the circle is feeling grateful for?’ And through it, through my actual exposure to the program, I began my own daily gratitude practice in a much more formal way.

So I committed about a year ago to do a Daily Gratitude practice online on Facebook, where I would post it on a daily basis and kind of tell the world what I was grateful for. And for me that was a way of really rooting into a commitment. These are just some of the pictures of things I was grateful for throughout the year.

And what I found was that more than I’d look for something that I was grateful for, the more that every day I would find more and more things. And so it became the self-reinforcing practice where I couldn’t just find one thing that I was grateful for, I would find more and more.

There’s just the smell of the roses that walking on the street, of the jasmine wafting over me, and the beauty of my son helping me with the dishes. Everywhere I looked I would just find things to be grateful for. That’s me feeling really grateful outside Cafe Gratitude, in fact.

So what’s so special about gratitude?

Why is it that, I mean this seemingly simple technology, is so powerful?

Now I’d like to say that there’s actual correlation between things like permaculture and gratitude in that you know both of these are actually not really new technologies. It’s not surprising, you’ve heard of gratitude before.

But like with permaculture, we like to say that we’re on the cutting edge of a thousand-year-old technology. I think with gratitude it’s kind of the same. So this is an age-old thing. But what would it be like if we really brought this to life in our cities, cultures, families, and homes, and organizations today?

Now some of the principles of gratitude, it’s an affirmation of life itself. So it’s like just that waking up in the morning to be like, ‘I’m thankful for another day!’ Like to me that’s the most honest and humble prayer that we can offer on a daily basis.

It shifts our focus from what’s negative to what’s positive. So it’s so easy in our culture to be critical or judging; you’re always looking for what’s wrong, what’s not right, analyzing.

Whereas gratitude just shifts the focus just a little bit right – to find what it is that is actually positive. It’s an opportunity for reframing. So it gives us this new lens on life.

So even when something’s really hard to focus on it from the perspective of gratitude means to find what’s right. So I’m really grateful actually that I got sick because I get this opportunity to rest, reflect and stay home and you know curl up under the blankets. And it’s like finding what’s good about even the hard situations.

And ultimately for me it connects me to something that’s bigger than myself. So it takes me out of my own self-referential world and to really opening to something bigger.

Brother David is a monk who’s created an organization –  I love this quote he says:

‘In daily life, you must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy!’

A lot of recent studies about what the impacts of gratitude are on personal happiness and health. And again it’s like this is not revolutionary, but actually it could be for our personal well-being and health.

So regular gratitude practice, that could be like just making a list of what you’re grateful for in a daily basis or a weekly basis contributes toward progress, toward important personal goals, greater alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, better health, sleep duration, sleep quality, greater energy, optimism, and positivity, and a sense of feeling connected to others.

The Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley is doing in a new study on gratitude. It’ll be really interesting to see what they come up with.

So, the moment that you shift your mindset from this perspective of negativity and judgment to one of appreciation, look at what happens to our bodies…

  • So your brain function becomes more balanced, harmonized and supple;
  • Your heart begins to pump in a much more coherent and harmonious rhythm; and
  • Biochemical changes trigger a host of helpful responses throughout your body.

There’s an actual science like mindfulness meditation, gratitude has the same impact on your body and your brain and your heart.

Studies of relationships and marriage

The Gottman Institute out of Washington, they say that the number one predictor of success in marriage is the level of gratitude. So if you have at least a ratio of five appreciations for every one negative comment or criticism, then you’ll make it. Seriously.

So he said that they can predict with 90% accuracy the success of couple after watching them for three minutes based on this interaction alone, which is pretty revolutionary. We kind of think should be 50/50 right, like at least as much positive is the negative? But actually we need to up our gratitude and appreciation of one another five times in order just to make it.

Gratitude in our families

This is my son Mateo. And I practice gratitude with my children. It’s really amazing what they’re capable of even from a young age. So my four-year-old has a much easier time with it than the seven-year-old. We will do rounds of gratitude like on the way to school in the morning, or as we’re getting ready to have dinner at night, just talk about what we’re grateful for.

And Mateo will go on and on sometimes for a half an hour straight of all the things he’s grateful for. And he actually comes up with his own rules he’s like, ‘Mom, these are the rules for being grateful.’

Like, ‘What’s that?’

He says, ‘Well if you say god or ice cream, you get to go twice.’

Gratitude in our organizations

So this is Cafe Gratitude, of course, which is an innovator right here in San Francisco about creating this kind of culture. There’s also Jawad Aviv which is a local hotel company which has implemented gratitude into their organization.

And similarly, Chip Conley, the head of Jawad Aviv, he said that, ‘If you just have two practices of gratefulness a day in an organization, it could shift the entire culture!’ So he committed personally, as a CEO, just to tell two people in the company that he was grateful on a daily basis and then completely shifted Jawad Aviv organizational culture.

So all this is true, then why don’t we practice gratitude?

Why don’t we do it?

Maybe it’s just deceptively simple. We think this is no that’s kind of a low-level kindergarten-sort-of-feeling of gratitude. We don’t really need to do that.

Maybe we’re afraid of putting ourselves out there. Maybe it would feel kind of vulnerable to go up to the barista in the morning be like, ‘Wow, I just really love that design on my coffee.’

Maybe that feels like it’s taking a step outside of our comfort zone, that would be maybe a bit risky, courageous.

We make assumptions. We think people already know. So do you think to thank your spouse or partner for making the bed in the morning or cleaning up after they have a meal. We just take that for granted? We think, ‘Well, they’re supposed to do that, so I don’t need to tell them I’m grateful.’

And we’re also coming from these old-world values of individualism and stinginess, competition. And so we’re constantly thinking, ‘Well, why would I put myself out there when they’re not telling me that they’re grateful for me first, right?’ Instead of creating this culture of generosity and giving it forward.

Just leave you with some simple keys for if you want to incorporate gratitude in your life. Some things that can really help you, whether you want to change your own personal life, or a relationship, or your organization, or your community… 

Number 1: Just commit!

So for me the practice of saying I’m going to do this on a daily basis and I’m going to put it out there on Facebook, it’s really powerful. But you can commit just in your own personal way. But just the practice of saying I’m going to do this or like Chip Conley to say, ‘I’m going to give gratitude twice a day in my work’, that was transformative in and of itself.

Number 2: Be real.

So you know it doesn’t really work if you’re expressing gratitude but you’re actually not really feeling it. It has to really come from that place of feeling true and being something you genuinely notice that you’re grateful for, even if it’s just as simple as your breath.

Number 3: What you appreciate appreciates.

And so what I’ve noticed is that the more you notice what you’re grateful for, the more things you see that you’re grateful for. So you’re able to actually cultivate that kind of beauty in your life. So if you want to see more… You know, I would see my kids doing the dishes more, the more I tell them I’m grateful for it, the more they’re going to do it.

Number 4: To do it together.

So it’s actually really helpful to get on board with this with like your partner, or your children, or your organization, so that you hold one another accountable because sometimes I’m not feeling that grateful. So it really helps me if that my kids say, ‘Hey mom, you know we really should do gratitude before dinner, then we can do that together!’

And the fifth principle this is kind of a magic secret of gratitude which is that it’s possible to give thanks not just for what you see and what you already have but for what’s yet to come.

So if you really want to experience more joy and love in your life, you really want to live in a beautiful home in nature to give gratitude for that as if it’s already happened.

And there’s a secret principle of that in which gratitude actually becomes a creative act and you draw that thing to you by giving that thanks, and it’s like that total confidence of like, ‘Yes, I’m so grateful that that thing already happened!’ And in my experience it really works.

So back to gratitude and City 2.0. I’d like to suggest that gratitude is actually the fertilizer that could really cultivate the kinds of cities that we want to live in a resilient regenerative community. Just thinking back to you like what it would feel like to live in a city where this culture of appreciation and love was really pervasive, where when you’re walking down the street you have this feeling of just connection that, sometimes it feels really hard to attain in the city.

For me this morning I had done my gratitude practice as I was driving down the hill and when I stopped to get a coffee and I was walking down the street and because I was feeling really grateful and I was smiling at all these people, they were smiling back at me. And it was like just by my practicing the gratitude that I was able to feel like I lived in the city that was a culture of gratitude.

So as I close, I’d like to invite you to a little experiment which is that you might try this out. So as you leave here today maybe as we go into the networking portion at the end of the day, just consider finding one thing you’re grateful for and telling somebody. See what happens.

Maybe you go home and you find your beloved or housemate at your house and you think to share something you’re grateful for with that person. See what happens.

And my information is up there. You can be in touch. Let me know how it went for you. See what becomes possible, if we really take responsibility for creating regenerative communities from the inside out.

Thank you.

Resources for Further Reading:

365 Grateful Project: Hailey Bartholomew at TEDxQUT (Transcript)

Jane Ransom: Discover the Three Keys of Gratitude to Unlock Your Happiest Life at TEDxChennai (Transcript)

Choose Yourself: James Altucher (Full Transcript)

How to Love Yourself to the Core: Jen Oliver (Transcript)


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