Tapping into the power of gratitude | John Hamer

How can we be grateful when surrounded by such persistent and seemingly intractable problems?

What are you most thankful for?

I ask my family that question every Thanksgiving at the dinner table, often to eye-rolling groans from the younger generations.

But the other day that question was posed to about 50 members of my Mercer Island Rotary Club by our guest speaker, David George Brooke, who calls himself “That Gratitude Guy” (thatgratitudeguy.com). I had met Brooke several years ago and invited him to speak to our club.

He handed out 3-by-5 note cards and asked us to write down the #1 thing or person we are thankful for, the #2 thing or person, and #3, what we had been most thankful for the day before. Then he asked us to assign a number on a scale of 1 to 10 for each answer.

I wrote for #1 my wife, who has been the light of my life for nearly 25 years now – and gave her a 10. For #2, my grandchildren, whom I would not have without marrying my wife and gaining two stepsons and two daughters-in-law, who each had two children. I gave them an 8. And #3, I wrote “Friends,” since I had met with a couple of them the day before. They got a 6, but should have been an 8 because I deeply value their friendship.

We didn’t show each other our cards, but the exercise clearly got everyone in the room thinking. My guess is that we all found much to be thankful for, being a group who live on Mercer Island and are generally successful people who are now trying to give back through Rotary, the largest service organization in the world.

But Brooke made the case that being grateful is extremely important and beneficial in our lives, especially in these fraught days of wars, terrorism, disease, poverty, famine, accidents, disasters, homelessness, addictions, gun violence and political polarization — just to name a few.

How can we be grateful when surrounded by such persistent and seemingly intractable problems?

“It’s so easy to be negative,” Brooke said. “Life is frickin’ hard. The world is a crazy place and we’re always coping with it.” However, he added that the “science of gratitude” proves that being grateful actually helps us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

“Gratitude turns what you have into enough,” he said.

Once you learn Brooke’s background, it becomes a challenge to understand how he can be so grateful. His website features “My Story: How I Became That Gratitude Guy.” A few excerpts:

“My entire life has been one of overcoming tragedies and trauma. What had been a relatively idyllic childhood started to unravel at the age of 16 when my parents got divorced and I was forced to testify against my father. My mother had struggled with depression and was diagnosed as having a manic-depressive disorder.

“My father committed suicide, my mother died of cancer, and I lost many other family members and friends. I unfortunately inherited some of my mother’s manic-depressive disorder and have continually struggled to manage my state.

“On September 29, 1998, my wife Dana died of a prescription pill overdose at the age of 38 years. I found her on the floor early that morning. My son Connor was four and my older son Kyle was 14.

“I had watched Dana struggle over the past four years with three trips to rehab, countless relapses, and a trip to jail for prescription fraud. Prior to her death, she drained our entire savings account to pay for her addiction.

“Later that day, I came to understand very clearly why people commit suicide. I decided right then, I never would. Connor and Kyle had already lost one parent. I needed to raise them.

“In the aftermath of her death, I was forced to close my business and we lost our home to foreclosure. I had no money and was close to bankruptcy. Most days I could only manage to stare at the ceiling. That lasted for the better part of two years. My support group, that I attended weekly, helped a great deal. But I still needed something to help me.

“After jumping from one job to another, I slowly started to rebuild my life. I took additional jobs and spent very little. Connor and I lived in a small apartment and shared the one bedroom.

“So, I decided in December 2013, to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a motivational speaker, teacher, and coach. I discovered the amazing power of gratitude. I proceeded to find out everything about this powerful mindset, and how it could transform your life.”

Wow, how can this guy be thankful when he’s been through so much trauma? In the Q-and-A session, I asked him how he had made that remarkable turnaround.

“It’s a choice,” Brooke said. “Find your strengths and your talents. Find your passion and your purpose. Then turn your life around.”

Brooke has presented over 850 speeches and workshops in the past decade, including over 150 Zoom presentations. He has over 1,800 gratitude videos on YouTube, and has been featured in Forbes and Costco Connections magazines. He has published a book called “That Gratitude Guy’s Daily Gratitude Journal” that encourages people to write briefly every day of what they are grateful for and what they anticipate being thankful for tomorrow.

“If you write about it, it inspires you,” he said.

I bought a copy of Brooke’s book (only $20) and wrote in it that day. I said I was grateful for knowing him and inviting him to speak to our Rotary Club. Thanks, Gratitude Guy!

John Hamer is a former Seattle Times editorial writer/columnist and co-founder of the Washington News Council. He is grateful to live on Mercer Island.