75 years ago this past weekend, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Lou Gehrig, delivered a speech that proved to be not just his departure from baseball, but from life. The humble Gehrig, on July 4, 1939, spoke to a crowd of 60,000 at Yankee Stadium, and marked his place in the panoply of great speeches of all time.
The Iron Horse, as the New York Yankee was known, was leaving baseball, and he was dying. He could no longer play the game he dominated, because he was afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., the incurable neurological disease that took Gehrig’s life just two years later.
It got me thinking both about the role of gratitude in a good man’s life, and what one would say to a crowd in the face of death like Gehrig. Gehrig, in his speech, referred to himself as “the luckiest man,” something that really resonated strongly with me. In the course of the speech, he thanked everyone from his teammates to the groundkeepers. Said Gehrig: “For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
To be a man of gratitude, does one have to wait until they’re faced with the prospect of loss, or death, to understand what one is thankful for in life right now?
Communicating gratitude is hard, especially for men, because sometimes we’re not so forthright or expressive about the strong positive feelings we feel on the inside. It’s important, however, to let those people know how we feel about them, even if it challenges us and makes us a bit uncomfortable. If we feel it on the inside, communicating it outwardly bridges the gap, and creates harmony within us, and authenticity outside of us. It also neutralizes regret, when we can act on our gratitude spontaneously.
I think gratitude also means pivoting towards the present moment in our lives, because when we’re too wrapped up with worrying about the past, or getting anxious about the future, we lose sight of the things and people that are happening in our lives today. When we live in the past or future, we lose appreciation about our lives today, in the here and now.
Negativity can destroy gratitude. If you’re caught in constant negativity or anger, it’s hard to see that which you’re grateful for. It’s like a fog, preventing you from seeing the good things right in front of you. If you’re constantly negative, or you’re seeing demons everywhere, you may be trapped in a state of fear or stuckness in your life where you can’t advance. Identifying and removing those blocks to your happiness will let some of the gratitude in.
In many ways, our “get-it-now” culture promotes an attitude of getting and achieving more for greater happiness, which is a never-ending cycle. We work more to make more to buy more and to gain more. But, we’re not necessarily happier. It’s a cycle of disappointment, and constant hunger, because we don’t take stock of what we already have. Gratitude slows this hunger down, and allows us to be present and aware to what we do have in our lives, like wanting what we already have, whether that’s family, a loving partner, good children, bills paid, a secure job or enough material items to keep us secure, sustained and happy.
I like to acknowledge customer service providers when they’ve done a good job, or seek out a supervisor to talk with and tell them how good of a job that person did. This is one way I apply gratitude to my day-to-day. I like to try to communicate my gratitude to them, whether it’s good service at a restaurant, or if someone has made my life easier in the smallest way. I think people are craving that validation, because the feedback people often get is negative, and when they get it, it’s a little “paying it forward.” Positive validation is often in such short supply. People’s days are brightened, and they are more likely to pass that good energy along to others.
Living with a “luckiest man” attitude creates many benefits. It can dissolve negativity, and can keep you appreciating all that you do have in life. Sure, there are obvious times where luck is not with you, but I think if it’s an overall attitude underneath it all, you get to be a contented and happier person. Like the Iron Horse, who would you give appreciation and communicate gratitude to, whether now or at the end of your life? Don’t wait, because life doesn’t. Don’t let regret replace action today – it’s yours for the making.