This is a transcript of a short talk I did about gratitude at the September 2013 Sunday Assembly NYC. I haven’t met the monkey you see below. He was photographed by Ben Torode. Thanks, Mr. Torode for inspiring me with your wonderful photos! 

So I’m going to talk about gratitude. That’s the theme. Talking about it is my assignment. I have been obsessing on it for a couple weeks now, so I’m surely an expert!

Let’s start with defining gratitude.


GRATITUDE  – a feeling of thanks or appreciation. What is thanks and what is appreciation?

THANKS – a good feeling that you have towards someone who has helped you, given something to you, etc.

APPRECIATION – an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something.

Appreciation. That’s the best part of the ride.

Now, I want to show you gratitude. A visual aid.


This is a snow monkey in Nagano,  Japan. Where he is, temperatures get as low as 5 degrees in the winters. He is not so grateful right there. He is cold. In the village, where you would find this little guy, there is also a hot spring that gets as warm as the high 90’s. This next photo shows him there.


I’m going to guess that the look on his face is the feeling of understanding the worth of warmth.


I am not a grateful person by design. I don’t often feel like that monkey. I work at it. I make lists of what I am grateful for among other tools. And generally, it conjurs up the feeling. And that’s good because I’m naturally a cranky, worrying, mild hypochondriac. And gratitude feels a lot better than worry. There’s studies that have shown gratitude and happiness are linked. Pretty obvious. That monkey is happy. I want to be that monkey. But how do we feel like that monkey…without Nagano cold and without the village hot spring.

I have an old friend in LA. She was my office mate for four years. We bonded over catastrophic thinking. Like, “Oh no! I left the curling iron on! What if the cat knocked it over and burnt himself, and then it fell on the toilet paper roll, making that catch on fire, and oh no, I took the battery out of the fire alarm. It’s out of control…The city is ablaze!”

Sure, we would go home and the curling iron wasn’t even left on. The cats would be asleep on the bed. Toilet paper roll perfectly coiled. The city. At peace. But we worried as if that daily proof that the planet still stood wasn’t proof enough. And we took solace that we weren’t alone.

A couple years ago, that same friend and I met for tea at a small coffee shop. She was a little nervous. And as we sat there, I felt like we weren’t going to talk about curling irons. We talked about something very different. She had been diagnosed with cancer. In the last few months, she had started chemo. Doctors believed she would need a year of treatment and she had caught it early, so the journey had an optimistic expected outcome.

We talked about her challenges and fears and pain. Real challenges and fears and pain. But we bonded over something completely different. We didn’t go to the worst case scenario. We bonded over the temperature of the tea, the taste of the scones, how great our husbands were. Gratitude. She taught me gratitude in that evening. Together, we felt a deep understanding of the importance of our time.

Gratitude is not just knowing what’s good in your life. It’s knowing whats real. And what’s temporary.  It’s immersing myself in what’s important. Like that monkey. All there is is that warmth. That water. Immersed in what’s important.

Gratitude is the feeling of understanding the importance of something.

My goal now, every day, is to get a glimpse of gratitude. It’s not easy. It never lasts. But it lets you look up, in awe, like a child seeing a huge roller coaster. I’m about to go on a ride and it’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s fleeting. I am alive.

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