I think we can all find many things to be thankful about – – people, pets, the roof over our heads, the food on our table, and our general good fortune. If we want to think in terms of Disney, we can always be thankful for the many things that Walt Disney gave to us over these many years that have led to our entertainment, amusement, and memories. Some of us Disney nerds may even go as far as feeling grateful for the many lessons that Walt Disney had taught us through his imaginative, yet pragmatic approach to life, family, and work. But this article isn’t about us being grateful for Walt Disney. It is about how he, himself, lived with gratitude.
Be grateful for the hardships and failures of your youth, and the lessons they taught you. Walt once said about childhood, “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young. I learned a lot out of that. Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you.” Considering all of the hardships and failures Walt experienced before he became successful, it is exactly because of those failures that he learned how to do better. Many people would be worn down by failures, but Walt taught us to be thankful for them, for it is with learning from our mistakes that we create success. We just learn to simply not do THAT again!
Be like a child, and be thankful for the little things. One of the biggest things we remember about Walt Disney was his ability to see the world through a child’s eyes. In many ways, Walt was a big kid himself, and it is perhaps this childlike approach to life that always kept him curious and looking forward to creating bigger and better things. Walt once commented, “Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life . . . They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought – – sometimes it isn’t much either.” Walt’s notion to find contentment and gratitude in the small things is perhaps one of the most important lessons we can learn from him. I think many of us can agree that some days, we just don’t want to “adult” anymore. Sometimes getting lost in a good book or taking a nap with your pet cuddled up next to you is the greatest joy. Suddenly, you realize just how much you truly appreciate not having to look at your phone.
Be humble and thankful for those that work for and with you, and appreciate who you work for. When asked of his Company, Walt said, “Whatever we accomplish is due to the combined effort . . . in my organization, there is respect for every individual, and we all have a keen respect for the public.” Walt realized that although he had big ideas, he could never have built or created what he did without the help of others. To him, success was found in a multitude of ideas coming together, and no idea was a “bad one,” – – it just needed to be reworked or looked at in a different way. Walt valued the individual, but also realized that individuals must work together in order to create something much greater than themselves, and for the greater good.
Be proactive in showing gratitude for others. Don’t just say it! In all of my years of studying Walter Elias Disney, I have rarely ever come across a pointed example of Walt actually saying, “Thank you,” to someone. This hardly means that he was ungrateful. In fact, he never really believed in “thanking” a person since it was more important to show his gratitude through praise. He was a motivator – – a positive energy that served as a catalyst to propel other’s upward and onward. To Walt, showing appreciation was key, and he did so by giving others his trust and confidence which was far greater than a mere, “Thank you.” Walt stated, “Giving appreciation – – showing it – – is fully as important as getting it in our everyday relations.” Many of those who worked for Walt, learned quickly to never expect him to say, “thank you.” Their greatest reward came in the form of him praising their work to another colleague. One might find this odd, but the results became astoundingly clear in the resulting talent that Walt cultivated, encouraged, and helped nurture into the Legends that they became. Those Legends went on to ensure Walt’s legacy would live on well beyond his lifetime.
I can think of many things that I am “thankful” for. However, I think the most important part of discovering our gratitude is to humble ourselves, and think in terms of a simpler time. This was a common practice for Walt, and it helped him to see clearer, to think bigger, love more, and overcome some of the biggest obstacles imaginable. To actually show gratitude by lifting others up, is how to truly live with a thankful heart. Who knows what legacies we will leave behind, but at least those we leave behind will know how much they were appreciated. Thanks again, Walt, for your example!