How to Strengthen Trust through Intentional Gratitude


Four months ago, I began something that, although it didn’t start out that way, ended up being an experiment in gratitude.

Initially, I was responding to my own frustration that I couldn’t seem to remember the things that others cared about. I’ve been carrying so many things about myself in my own head that it has left little room to think about others. That makes it hard to care about others, which makes it harder to have relationships based on genuine trust.

Thus the experiment: Using the Notes app in my phone, I’ve maintained a list of people I care about, including family, friends, colleagues and clients—my “others” list. Next to many of the names, I have documented something that they’ve told me they’re excited or concerned about.

Here are some examples:

Person 1- Getting back in shape

Person 2- Loneliness

Person 3- Surgery

Person 4- Depression

Person 5- New job

Person 6- Corporate politics

Person 7- Cancer treatment

Person 8- Marriage

Person 9- Leading well at work

I review segments of the list most mornings at my kitchen table, on an airplane or at my desk. I think about the person. I pray for them. I contemplate life right now through their perspective. Just for a moment. It helps me to genuinely care.

It has also done something completely unexpected. It’s made me more grateful for each person. I wasn’t sure exactly why until a friend asked this rhetorical question recently:

Why is it that we raise our expectations of others as we strengthen our relationship with them? When my wife and I were dating, she could do no wrong. Now, after years of marriage, I expect so much more from her.

What a thought-provoking concept. Do your expectations of people increase the more you get to know and rely on them? Think about your family, your friends, your colleagues. Who annoys you more—the ones you’ve just begun a relationship with or the ones you’ve known for several years?

If this is the case for you, like it is for my friend and for me, consider how it impacts your gratitude for that person. While we might value the relationship deeply, how much less do we appreciate the person in each passing (annoying) moment?

Somehow, my Others List has reversed this trend.

In the past several weeks, I’ve had more gratitude for many of my relationships. Just last night I choked back emotion as I told my wife how much I appreciate her for her tireless effort and love.

So, what’s the connection between focusing on the needs of others and being grateful for them? Perhaps the answer is this: When you consistently reflect upon another’s perspective, your posture shifts from expectation to appreciation.

This isn’t to suggest that you abandon all expectations of others. Covenants and accountabilities are part of relationships. The question is, rather, where do you focus your attention in the relationship?

The longer a relationship goes on, the more I need to reverse the drift toward expectation and shift it toward appreciation.

When Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People, he understood that sustaining and strengthening relationships requires intentionality. He advocated that we:

  • Don’t criticize, condemn or complain
  • Give honest, sincere appreciation
  • Become genuinely interested in other people

It’s easy to understand what these suggestions mean. It’s easy to understand how they cause us to care about others and build genuine trust.

What’s hard to understand is how to reverse the natural pull toward a mind that’s inwardly focused and frustrated at the failures of others to meet our expectations.

Maybe it requires an Others List. Or maybe you could consider other ways to shift your focus from expectation to appreciation.

How are you getting more intentional about finding gratitude for the others in your life?

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