Terri Cole on the habit of being grateful
Early in her life Terri Cole learned the value of gratitude.
“I was raised by a very grateful mother,” says Cole, a New York-based relationship expert and licensed psychotherapist whose clients include some of the world’s best-known personalities.
“Whenever we passed something outside that was beautiful, my mother would always say, ‘Hello, God!’ When I took a bath, she would remind me that many people in the world don’t have hot water. She wanted us to be grateful for all of our blessings, big and small.”
Despite her mother’s example, Cole says she was an ego-driven “hothead” in her twenties who was easily provoked and offended.
“I was young,” Cole says. “I didn’t want anyone to ever think I did anything wrong. As I became more evolved—psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually—I realized that being defensive is a fear-based experience. It was blocking me. The more I looked inward, the more I committed to changing.”
Therapy helped. So did learning how to meditate.
Facing Cancer, Finding Gratitude
But it wasn’t until age 31 that Cole began a regular gratitude practice. It was late 1998 and her father had just passed away. Shortly after, Cole learned she had a plum-sized malignant tumor on her thyroid gland.
After surgery, Cole suspected something was still wrong. Six months later, she convinced doctors to take another look. This time they found a different form of thyroid cancer.
“Having cancer got me to realize that every moment of this amazing, beautiful journey—even the hard stuff—is a gift, and that we’re not guaranteed any of it,” says Cole, who is now free of cancer. “Gratitude gives you the power to live without regrets.”
Cole blends her meditation and gratitude practices. In the morning, before she begins repeating a mantra during meditation, Cole “plants seeds of gratitude” in her conscious and unconscious mind by asking questions, such as, What am I grateful for? Who am I grateful for?
Seeing the good out of the bad doesn’t mean you wish the bad didn’t happen. It just means the bad doesn’t define you.—Terri Cole
Writing Down Gratitude
What Cole knows personally about the role of gratitude is reinforced by reading books and research on the topic. Studies show that writing down three things we are grateful for every day for 21 consecutive days can increase optimism. Other studies have shown gratitude increases willpower, keeps us calm, and boosts employee morale.
About two years ago, Cole was devastated when her 18-year-old niece was killed in a car accident. Cole was eventually able to find something to be grateful for in the aftermath of her niece’s death, but it took time.
“Seeing the good out of the bad doesn’t mean you wish the bad didn’t happen,” she says. “It just means the bad doesn’t define you.”
Being Your Own Gratitude Guru
Cole, who has been in practice for more than two decades, helps clients live their best lives. Her clientele includes high-profile figures from the entertainment, sports, and business worlds. Understanding and practicing gratitude is an important part of their work together, she says.
“You have to be willing to take responsibility for the level of happiness you’re going to experience—or the level of joy or the level of intimacy or whatever. We have all of these teachers, like Deepak (Chopra) and Oprah (Winfrey), but at the end of the day, we can’t count on Deepak or Oprah or anyone else to have that experience for us. Gratitude is an inside job. It’s our perception.”
Cole encourages each of us to be our own gratitude guru.
“If you look at your life and say, ‘I’m not that satisfied. I don’t feel that great,’ you may not be focusing on what’s right in your life. Perhaps you can’t let go of a grievance from 15 years ago.
“People feel justified. They’re in love with their anger. They say, ‘But that person is wrong.’ As the saying goes, ‘Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.’
“This is your one and only life. How long are you going to let that person squat in your mind? Because they’re not paying rent. They’re taking up valuable space in your brain,” she says.
On Being Thankful Every Day
So how do we cultivate gratitude, not just at Thanksgiving, but year-round? Cole recommends starting a twice-daily gratitude practice. Upon waking in the morning, ask “What and who am I grateful for? What is right in my life right now?” Write down three things. At the end of the day, do a quick scan of the day, noting the highlights, and write down three more.
“They don’t have to be peak experiences,” she says. “For me, it’s the small things: hot water, good coffee, my cute husband—whatever. Those are the things that float me on the river of gratitude.”
Want more affirmative tools for shaping your gratitude practice? Request or download the booklet Gratitude and Grace, from Unity.