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A story from Attitude is Everything

Years ago, I was the public relations director for motivational guru, Zig Ziglar. At the time, he was arguably the best-known, most loved speaker in the world. When audience members heard Zig, they witnessed a man chockfull of energy, vitality and joy. Having worked closely with him and known him well, I can tell you that the Zig you saw on stage was the real Zig Ziglar. In fact, I can't remember ever seeing him when he was not happy and upbeat.

The Zig I knew was one carbonated guy

Every time Zig answered his home phone, he picked up the receiver and said with gusto, "This is Jean Ziglar's happy husband!" And he meant it!

Awhile back one of Zig's closest friends and I were discussing Zig's aura of happiness. "Completely genuine," his friend said. "I have never seen him down." Then he added thoughtfully, but with love, "Hardly what you'd call normal."

"What's Zig's secret?" I asked.

"I think," he said, "it comes down to feeling grateful. Never met a guy more grateful than Zig. Period."

You'd think anyone that grateful must have had an easy life. But that's not so.

Zig started out poor. Dirt poor. His father died when he was six, leaving his mother to raise eleven children alone. The family was virtually penniless. Yet despite their poverty, Mrs. Ziglar instilled a strong work ethic in her children and raised them to believe that both she and God loved them. She also instructed her children to practice saying "please" and "thank you." Those lessons stuck. Her formula of work, love and faith made their difficult lives easier. Gratitude made their lives enjoyable.

Zig once told me, "When we neglect to require our children to say `thank you' when someone gives them a gift or does something for them, we raise ungrateful children who are highly unlikely to be content. Without gratitude, happiness is rare. With gratitude, the odds for happiness go up dramatically."

Zig and his wife Jean, "the Redhead" (was the pet name he gave her), had four children - Suzan, Cindy, Julie and Tom. Suzan, the oldest, not only inherited her mother's looks and vivacious smile, she also inherited a passion from both her parents to encourage others.

One day Suzan fell ill. Within a short time, she was fighting for her life. The doctors prescribed steroids that made her bloated, large and uncomfortable. In a matter of just a few months, the unthinkable happened -- Suzan died. Jean and Zig were heartbroken.

At the viewing at the funeral home, I was struck by how upbeat Zig appeared. Despite his grief, he was his usual self: He smiled and shook hands with friends and offered comfort to others who grieved. His strong Christian faith gave him hope that he'd see Suzan again. But there was something else: "We have no regrets," Zig told several well-wishers. "She knew we loved her. We feel no regret." Even in his deepest sorrow, Zig counted his blessings and that buoyed his sagging spirits.

Years ago, Zig created the popular phrase, "Have an attitude of gratitude." According to Zig, "The more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for."

I know firsthand that giving thanks brings joy. Awhile back, I heard Oprah Winfrey urge viewers to keep a Gratitude Journal. It seemed pretty schmaltzy to me, so I didn't do it. But Oprah was a jackhammer. Day after day, week after week, she kept pounding on that idea. I'd catch her show here and there. Same thing: Keep a Gratitude Journal. A few months later, I was speaking to a government group and staying in a cruddy hotel. (The government may blow your money by bombing the moon and taking expensive pictures of you naked as you walk through airport security scanners, but rest assured they are not wasting dollars putting motivational speakers in fancy hotels.) I was seated at the hotel's indoor restaurant by a swimming pool reeking with enough chlorine to purify the Love Canal. As I waited impatiently for my meal to arrive, I suddenly remembered Oprah's directive. What the heck? I had a pen and some scrap paper.

I listed my mother who spent time each day praying for me. I wrote down my father who deeply loves me. My kind, funny brother and his family. My job and the opportunity to travel and encourage people. Friends. Laughter. For the fact that I had a place to sleep that was safe. For a private bathroom. (You start listing - you begin to get thankful!) I quickly listed about 30 things and noticed that not only did I have a lot to be thankful for, but suddenly I was in a terrific mood!

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