In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays the character of a newscaster doomed to relive the same day over and over again. Every morning he wakes up, encounters the same people, and performs the same actions. Eventually, he uses binge-eating, one-night stands, and other harmful behavior to try to escape the tedious loop. Depression, fear, and desperation set in, but nothing seems to work.
Recently, it hit me: we’re all living the plot of Groundhog Day. If you think about it, Groundhog Day is like being stuck at home because of COVID-19. Or, feeling like you’re stuck for four years with a president you do not agree with. This is a particularly tumultuous moment in what has already been a tumultuous year. Right now, as we face the possibility of more lockdowns, a polarized presidential election, and what feels like an unstable future, it’s easy to give in to fear.
Please don’t surrender to a never-ending cycle of dread, anxiety, and fear. There’s a way to break the cycle. In fact, Groundhog Day even provided the answer.
How did Bill Murray get out of his living nightmare? He transformed himself and made his life about serving others. He recognized that gratitude and serving others is the most powerful tool you have for getting out of a fearful and stressful state. In the coming weeks, ask yourself, is it better to soak in misery, or to become grateful, serve others, and make a difference?
Fear Is the Enemy of Gratitude
The renowned motivational speaker Tony Robbins taught me that you cannot be fearful and grateful at the same time—not just metaphorically speaking, but biochemically. When you’re living in a state of constant stress, the body’s main stress hormone, cortisol, is elevated. Abundant cortisol actually inhibits serotonin and dopamine, two of the chemicals that make us happy. So, if you are truly grateful, you cannot be stressed or fearful.
That’s why Robbins encourages a daily meditation practice where you identify the top three things you’re most grateful for. Approaching situations from a place of gratitude completely changes your perspective.
Unfortunately, it’s often easier to embrace fear than it is to cultivate gratitude. Particularly when you’re living in an environment that seems saturated with bad news, like we are. When fear takes over, it can cause even the most well-intentioned people to make decisions that amplify harm.
For example, recently, David Barrett, the CEO of Expensify, sent an email to 10 million customers urging them to vote for Joe Biden. He wrote, “Anything less than a vote for Biden is a vote against democracy,” and he warned, “Not many expense reports get filed during a civil war.” Even if you agree with Barrett’s politics, the reality is that roughly 50% of the population doesn’t. And if his client base and (more importantly) internal team includes any of those people, which they likely do, those individuals wouldn’t feel safe.
A leader’s job isn’t to cultivate fear; all fear does is divide us. Instead, the responsibility of a leader is to figure out what he or she—and their organization—can do to bring people together. What can we do to encourage gratitude, rather than fear?
Recognize That We All Want the Same Things
The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is known for his outlandish characters, but recently, he said something in complete earnestness that blew me away. He declared, “The ultimate aim of society should be to make sure that people are not targeted, not harassed, and not murdered because of who they are, where they come from, who they love, or how they pray.”
In other words, our goal should be to move past our differences and find common ground, tap into our longing for common good, and focus on ways to bring people together. Even though we may have different political beliefs, at the core, we all want the same things. No one wants homeless veterans to go without medical care. No one wants children to go hungry. No matter whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, we all love our children and want what we believe is best for them.
When we recognize all the beliefs we share, it’s easier to form a united front focused on gratitude. When people come together to support causes they really care about—causes that support humanity at large—it’s easier to see that we all have the ability to contribute and make a difference. Setting our sights on serving others is how we can break the cycle of fear.
These are the kinds of conversations we’re having as a leadership team at InfoTrust. Right now, we’re in the process of organizing our foundation’s annual Basket Brigade project. That project began 8years ago as a way to send Thanksgiving food to children’s hospitals and other organizations; It was the first step on our path toward philanthropy.
But what we noticed over time was that, the more our organization grew, the more these kinds of projects united us. Employees started projects in their home countries and cities: everywhere from Boston and Seattle to the Philippines and India. This kind of service not only gave them the opportunity to be superheroes in the places they came from, but also helped us feel more connected as an organization. Gratitude has brought us together, and it will continue to do so, even in uncertain times.
Gratitude Empowers Us
In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to encounter challenges. No matter who wins this election, half of the country is going to be disappointed, angry, or afraid. It’s going to be more important than ever not to give in to those negative emotions.
When you feel fear creeping in, try to reorient your focus. Focus on gratitude and how you can use your abilities to serve others. Remember that gratitude empowers us. It shows us that even though there are things we can’t control, we aren’t helpless. Instead of feeling Groundhog Day-style doom, we can come together and channel our energies into projects that we really care about. Even more importantly, we can use our gratitude to help others.
“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
- Marianne Williamson