As an FBI agent, I was surrounded by law enforcement officers who had a strong sense of right and wrong. They were motivated by their moral emotions to move into adverse and dangerous situations because they believed in protecting the well-being of others.
Research has shown that emotions are strongly connected to our morality—the ability to tell right from wrong. Gratitude and indignation are both moral emotions; gratitude is a positive emotion that encourages reciprocal altruism, well-being, and appreciation. Indignation, on the other hand, is a negative emotion that is closely related to anger and revenge—it motivates individuals to punish cheaters.
Mental toughness strengthens our ability to distinguish positive emotions from negative ones. We can use this awareness to strengthen positive emotions like gratitude and control negative ones like anger.
Understanding our emotions is the key to controlling them.
Mental toughness is learning how to connect with those emotions that attract more of the things that represent our moral standards. In turn, we see ourselves as living and doing what is right.
As leaders, we can find ways to make gratitude a stronger emotion. We can use mental toughness to strengthen our gratitude emotion and control the negative emotions that impact the way we treat not only ourselves, but those around us.
Here are 3 ways we can make gratitude a stronger emotion:
Intentional behavior is moving ahead with a thoughtful and deliberate goal in mind. To be intentional in our desire to make gratitude a stronger emotion, we will need to seek out and identify specific acts for which we can, and should, be grateful.
- it cost someone (either time or effort)
- it is perceived to be of value
- it is not obligatory or habitual in nature
- the result produces relief or happiness
Most FBI agents and law enforcement officers enter their career with the hope of arresting criminals who exploit the needs and weaknesses of others. Over time, however, their idealism is threatened because life is rarely lived in absolutes.
The black and white of justice frequently morphs into shades of gray; good is often found in the midst of the bad, and bad sometimes results from good intentions.
Mental toughness is learning to live with the paradox of contradiction and not run from the mystery of life.
It’s especially important to keep focused on being grateful when life is taking a down turn:
- Seek out events and people that represent the things that embody your moral standards
- Express gratitude when you see them
- Let go of your need for the “right” way to be “your” way
- Clarify what you know to be the truth in your heart, get to know it better
- Remember that truth is it’s own best argument
Lose the Ego
Narcissists believe they are entitled to special rights and privileges. They tend to be demanding and selfish. People with large egos tend to be ungrateful; instead, they believe they deserve the favors and gifts given to them by others.
It’s impossible to give full attention to both ego and gratitude at the same time.
When you are appreciating something or someone else, your ego must move out of the way.
Deepak Chopra makes these points about ego and gratitude:
- Ego can get stuck on being right or wrong
- Real gratitude isn’t passing and temporary
- Gratitude takes openness and the willingness to set your ego aside
- No one is grateful for things they think they deserve.
- Gratitude is unearned, like grace
- When it is deeply felt, gratitude applies to everything, not simply to good things you hope come your way
Gratitude is an emotion that can be strengthened over time. It will take mental toughness to 1) intentionally seek out and find the people and circumstances for which we can be grateful; 2) remain focused on the priority of being grateful, especially in tough times; and 3) demand the ego to be put it in its proper place.
What tips do you have for making gratitude a stronger emotion?
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