Practicing Gratitude And Understanding Mindfulness with Teddy Droseros | #035
There are literally unlimited things to be grateful for. Just like getting good at basketball or whatever you can get good at, you can get good at being happy. It’s a skill. The more you take the time to practice gratitude and look for the good things around you, the more it makes your mind stronger and the more it increases the probability of you seeing new things. Teddy Droseros, founder of Grateful Peoples, created a Gratitude Journal that is being used for a few social initiatives. Thousands of kids and schools around the country are starting their day with one of these journals and writing down something they’re grateful for every day. Teddy says we have new experiences every day. If you train your mind to think about gratitude, it snowballs in the positive direction.
Practicing Gratitude And Understanding Mindfulness with Teddy Droseros
We have a very special guest. His name is Teddy. He is a happiness expert. That may sound woo-woo right now but I promise you, you will love this interview. I was introduced to Teddy a while ago and I checked out his story. He focuses on the ability to leverage gratitude to change your state and to make you happier. Teddy works with non-profits and he works in schools. He has done some incredible work with students in helping them think differently about their life and practice the art of gratitude to change how their day is. He has some incredible statistics and he has some incredible story about what he is doing in his business and I can’t wait for you to read this. I want you to pay attention to how he leverages happiness and how leverages gratitude so you can find gratitude in every piece of your life. We’re going to go right into this episode with Teddy Droseros. Enjoy this interview.
I am super excited and pumped to have our guest, Teddy Droseros from Grateful Peoples. Teddy, welcome to Experts Unleashed.
Thanks for having me.
My wife, Maryjo, goes, “Teddy wants you to watch this four and a half-minute video of a school that he helped out in Syracuse, New York,” which is not far away from where we are in Niagara Falls. We lived in Rochester for about ten years. Introduce my audience to who you are and what is Grateful Peoples? Let them know this unbelievable mission that you are doing with your company.
Grateful Peoples is just an expression of what I’m learning in life. At one point in my life, I started asking a lot of questions in terms of was I spending my every day to its full potential. Practicing gratitude and taking the time to write down what I’m grateful for every day helped me answer these questions. Along with yoga and meditation and understanding the connection between food and how it affects how we feel, gratitude is something that completely changed my life even though nothing changed, just my perception. I wanted to share that experience of taking a few minutes each day to write down some good thoughts and watch how your mind changes over time.
I had this thought to make a journal. It’s a simple idea and I didn’t know what I was going to do with it at the time. I had this experience with my heart where I just felt like I should do it. I never felt that before. It was definitely a new experience. It was cool to know, to feel like you should be doing this without a logical explanation for why. It took about a year to put the journal together. I started getting into artwork as well. It’s just some geometric designs that for me it’s a source of meditation. Friends would come over and be like, “Can you make me one?” Let me just connect gratitude and this new meditation experience through art. Let me connect them together and make this journal.
I did that and that was about three years ago when I started the process. It’s been about two years since I had the journal ready to go and ready to share with the world. I just started sharing it with people like, “I made this journal.” I was just putting it out there and then to see what had happened. I had this idea to get it into schools. I was in my mid-twenties when I started understanding mindfulness and this new lifestyle. I wondered what if I was fifteen years old or ten years old, but someone was like, “Here’s this book and write down something you’re grateful for every day.” I reached out to my old high school in New York and I’ve kept in touch with some of the teachers.
I was like, “Here’s this idea. I’d love to donate some journals for your class. Let’s give it a try.” They’re on board. I went to check in with the kids maybe for four or five months after they got the journals. Every morning, they just had one minute to write down a happy thought, a grateful thought. I remember standing in the classroom and hearing the feedback from the kids and thinking, “This is what I’m going to be putting a lot of my love and energy for this next phase in my life.” We went in and shot a video and got the kids, how they related to this practice and I use that video to share the project and it gradually grew. We had about 1,200 kids and schools around the country just starting their day with one of these Grateful Peoples journals and writing down what they’re grateful for every day. The video up in Syracuse you mentioned was the end of the first full year that we’re doing it. It was a beautiful experience catching up with the kids.
This whole idea, this gratitude journal, is one minute a day.
At Xavier, my old high school, that’s all the time they had because they haven’t figured building it to their curriculum yet. Even that one minute a day had a pretty cool impact on the kids’ mindset and behavior.
There was something at the end of your video that I watched from the school in Syracuse. It was a 40% drop in behavioral citations.
Let’s say a kid was sent to the main office with a citation, that dropped 40%.
Explain that exercise. You said at Xavier, they could only do one minute. How long are they spending doing this in Syracuse?
It’s different in every classroom, and that’s the idea is to plant seeds. Every teacher has a unique relationship with their classroom. It’s just to give them the idea and let it grow organically in each relationship. Some teachers said they spend two minutes, some said they spent five minutes. The idea was just to give the kids the time and space, even if it’s a couple of minutes every day. It varies based per classroom.
One of the things that are fascinating about this to me is this idea of gratitude. I’ve heard it before, I’ve practiced some mindfulness exercises before. I haven’t stuck with anything. It has not become a habit, but every time I do it, I feel good. As you give this skill set to children, what is their response? Kids who haven’t experienced it before, “I want you to be grateful.” I don’t know how you actually position it, but what is their response when you say, “This is what I want you to do.” Are they resistant to it? Are they very skeptical?
There are definitely some kids that have a hard time with it at first from what the teachers tell me. I wish I could be in the classrooms every day because visiting the schools, that’s an awesome experience for me. I’m just getting the feedback from the teachers and they say there’s a handful, but there are some kids that just struggled with this idea of, “What am I happy about?” Over time, every single one of them eventually started to relate to the process of writing down happy a thought every day differently and started to notice more and more things. That’s just the power of gratitude. Just give the kids the space to do it and they’ll eventually understand it and see the beauty and the process of just training your mind to see the good around you.
When was the first time you saw this in action at a large scale? Was it when you went to Xavier? Was it when you went back to your high school and you say, “I want to try this?” When was your first group experiment?
The group experiment was in Xavier and it was just with 25 kids. With Xavier and Syracuse and some feedback from other teachers, the reason I wanted to start this project was that I believed that it was going to have some impact. I didn’t realize to the extent that it would. After catching up with those kids at Xavier, I was like, “This is it. This is what I’m going to be doing until it evolves into whatever it evolves to.”
Where did gratitude come into your life? When did it come into your life? When did you start to see? When were you able to point to this and be like, “This is an important exercise in making me feel good?” Can you take me back? This is when we’ll start the rewind segment. How do we get to this point?
It’s 2012, actually. I like to journal and I keep all of them. I started the practice of writing down what I’m grateful for. I read an article and I was like, “Let me try it out.” Every night before bed, I would write down three things I’m grateful for. There were two specific instances and then one broader experience that made me feel the power of gratitude. One was at the time I was working in the city at a hedge fund, we’re working on some project. It was a pointless project where we’re doing it to appease the boss. We knew that and so it was just all the stress for no reason, us carrying out the project. I remember coming up from the subway one day and just relating to what that day was going to be like differently.
My mind was way more at ease. It’s interesting to see how I reacted to a thought I was having about the future. This was after a couple of weeks of writing down what I’m grateful every day. I attributed it to that practice. There’s something to this. There’s a lot of science about the power of gratitude and the chemical composition of your brain. I just liked the focus on the actual experience. It changed my mind and it’s changed the way my mind reacts to things. The main thing that made me understand gratitude and its ability to change our lives was the way it helped me relate to my mom’s a sickness. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after I was born. Growing up looking back, I realized it was a part of my life. I’ve accepted it by default. It was just what was normal to me. As I started to get into mindfulness, gratitude, yoga and meditation and all this good stuff, my relationship to my mom’s disease completely changed. I started to look at it as a blessing.
A gratitude practice helped me get here to this point of looking at something that’s caused my mom and my family and me so much suffering, but to be able to see the good in it. The good in it is that when I put on my shoes and I walk out the door and there are times where I’m like, “I just put on my own shoes. I can get dressed on myself. I can shower by myself. I have the option to both sit on the crowded subway or in the middle of the summer. I had these choices and not everyone does.” It’s a feeling in my gut that we went on present enough, aware enough, seeing my mom lose the ability to do these things throughout my life has made me aware. If you look around you, there are so many blessings all the time, every single moment. My mom’s disease has connected me to these blessings in a way that I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for her sickness.
My wife and I, when we have dinner every night with our son, we’ll say our grace, we’ll say a prayer. Then we’ll say, “What are we grateful for now?” A lot of times you find yourself saying the same thing like, “We’re grateful for food and clothing.” We are grateful. When I do it, sometimes they have a hard time figuring out what I’m grateful for. What you hit on was sometimes in order to figure out what you’re grateful for, you have to see the opposite. You have to see the polar opposite like the experience you had with your mom. I’m grateful for the ability to put on my shoes. Now that you’ve said that because I’ve seen what that is taken away, now I can be totally grateful for it. Have you ever thought about that, how to spot what you’re grateful for? Now that I think about it that way, there’s probably unlimited things that I can be grateful for.
There are literally unlimited things to be grateful for. Just like getting good at basketball or whatever, you can be good at gratitude, you can get good at being happy. It’s a skill. This is a science component too or a math component, but just the more you take the time to practice gratitude and look for the good things around you, it increases the probability of you seeing new things. It’s an equation. It’s dedicating yourself as you would to any practice. Your mind will get stronger and it will start seeing new things. A lot of the kids, they say that they write the same things over and over again in the beginning, but if you just keep giving them space and keep with your practice, you’ll start seeing new things to be grateful for. We have new experiences every day. If you’re training your mind to think about gratitude, “That was something good there,” it just snowballs in the positive direction.
As you’re growing up and you’re dealing with your mom, you’re being grateful for all of the things that you have, was there a certain instance, a certain memory that you can point to that you can remember like, “This is when I started to remember the ability to be grateful at making a positive impact?” Was there something specific that happened that you can point to that you remember about that time?
In relation to my mom or just in general?
In general of being able to say, “Identify the importance of being grateful and translating that to being happy.”
It was definitely a gradual development. True change takes time and over time, I started noticing little things that added up. A big part of that is my experience with my mom and just seeing her lose her ability to do the things she loves like sewing, cooking and riding her bike. That gradual experience connected me to this idea that I’ve got a lot going for me. I just need to put my mind in the place to acknowledge it. Then we all have a lot more going for us than we allow ourselves to see or easily see. We can see it, we just have to open her eyes. That’s what gratitude does.
You had done yoga and meditation. When did you start doing that?
This was all in 2012. I started asking a lot of questions like, “What am I doing?” I was happy. I just got my own apartment. I moved out of my parents’ house. I was living with some great friends and I was working and having fun on the weekends, but I just thought there was more to this cycle I was doing every week. I’m working during the week and partying on the weekends. I thought there was more.
In your mind, you clearly knew that gratitude and being grateful was very important. Once you started to study psychology and study yoga and meditation and practicing those exercises, was there anything that happened during your discovery when you realize that other people are also practicing gratitude you’re starting to identify common points?
This idea of gratitude is a very old idea. It’s been around for millennia and maybe longer. It’s in a lot of ancient texts, just be thankful for what you got as a way to a more fulfilling life. With yoga, meditation, food, what it all came down to for me was this idea that our thoughts create our reality and all these practices, all these mindfulness practices are just things that help us have better thoughts and if we have better thoughts, you’re going to have a better world. You’re going to have a better life. That’s how I operate, is just doing things that allow me to have more control over my mind as opposed to letting my environment control how I feel and how I think. I literally believe thoughts become real if you learn how to nurture them and love them. That’s the process I’m exploring at this point in my life is how deep the connection is between what we think and what we experience in the physical world. Gratitude is something that I think bridges the gap between your soul and what is present for you right now.
What do you mean? Do you think that gratitude is what bridges the gap between your thoughts?
In ancient texts, if you’re truly in the present moment, there’s only happiness that can exist there. Practicing gratitude, the idea of looking around you and then thinking of what’s good is something that connects you to the present moment, which affects the same things, connecting you to happiness. It all just comes down to our mind. Everything we experienced originated as a thought in some way, whether it’s this chair. I’m sitting on this chair and there was one day this guy was like, “I want to make a chair that looks like this.” There was a thought in someone’s mind and now it’s a real physical thing. Grateful Peoples, the journal, at one point it was just the thought in my mind to make a journal with these colors and these dimensions, and now it’s a real physical thing. Everything comes back to a thought. How do we experience our thoughts in a positive way? That’s what this whole thing is about for me. That’s what I’m trying to learn and explore.
You said something that I thought was very interesting. When you’re present, only happiness can exist.
It’s hard to do. I believe that.
If you think about it that way, it defines actually what unhappiness is. Unhappiness is when you’re worrying or thinking about things that aren’t even happening right. That’s deep. Internally, I’ve already gone into this thought process of what that means. That made me get it. When you’re present, only happiness can exist.
Abundance and happiness are all around us. It’s just woven into the fabric of life and our mind is just fired up with some things that aren’t even necessarily real. We just think of things that haven’t happened yet or we’re making up situations in our mind that are a possibility, but it hasn’t happened. We look around us all the time and also breathing, if you connect with your breath and realized that my brain and my heart are carrying out crazy amounts of functions every moment. We have trillions of cells carrying out functions every moment. There are trillions and trillions of things happening in your body every moment, if you connect to that and just feel like the power in our bodies and in their mind it’s like we’re in a magical world. There’s one quote of some writer, “If you’re awake, you feel like you’re in the magical fantasy land.” It’s just acknowledging how amazing nature is and getting your mind in the place to connect with it as often as possible.
Who do you think is most vulnerable, children or adults who are unaware of this?
I think adults, but I now have to think about that more but off the bat, I would say adults. I’m attracted to children and the way they perceive the world. There’s so much to learn from them. A big part of my life is trying to revert part of me back to the way I was when I was a kid. Kids live in the present moment and they’re not jaded. Adults are most vulnerable because our minds have already been diluted with a lot of other stuff and kids are still pure.
Being more vulnerable, do you find it to be more difficult to shift to fix that if we’re always anxious and always stressed out because of our job? You mentioned something about the importance of your environment and not letting your environment control you. How difficult do you think it would be to actually fix that problem?
It’s a very easy problem to fix in theory, but it might be difficult to carry out because of the state of our minds. There are problems and we’ve evolved into a group of people that overlook simple solutions to problems. All of the kids at Lincoln Middle School experienced a huge drop in behavioral issues. All that happened was they wrote down what they’re grateful for every day. It’s that simple, but getting adults to understand that and to actually go follow through with these. Happiness is a lifestyle. It’s a very easy process, but encouraging the people to go through that process is pretty difficult.
Personally, as someone who’s attempted mindfulness exercises, I’m definitely making way more progress than I did. Years ago, it was a hard shift for me because number one, I’m just not attracted to it. It’s all woo-woo and that’s not how my mind operates. As I’ve learned and I’ve studied more, I see the importance of it because there have been some dark times in my life that I have noticed that I have been self-sabotaging myself. Naturally, I’ve been exploring the thought of mindfulness. I do agree that it’s probably way more difficult for adults to change than kids. Kids, not that they know any better, they just haven’t experienced it. Their mind hasn’t been conditioned to be morphed into what society is now.
That’s why I love being around kids. They’re pretty special beings. There’s a lot to learn from them.
What’s the mission? Where are you going next? What are you doing? What are you up to?
Grateful Peoples is a representation of me. My business model is the same as my lifestyle model. If my mind is good, my world’s going to be good. If my mind is strong, Grateful Peoples, I truly believe it will be going down the path that I hope it goes down. One big thing is just getting as many kids as possible with journals and the school giving them time every day to just sit and write down some happy thoughts. The community has been so amazing in helping grow this project, which has been the best part. We have at least 4,000 kids signed up around the country that gratitude will be a part of their curriculum. Every day in school, they’re going to get time to practice. The goal is to just keep growing that every year. I’ve also been trying to manifest a pilot program in a prison. Something I learned that struck me was that essentially every person that’s in jail is released. 95% of people don’t serve life sentences or serve very short sentences. To me that was interesting. Pretty much everybody in jail return to society and they’re not being given tools to return with a good mindset.
There’s already yoga and meditation happening in jail. I’ve tried to connect with some organizations and hopefully it’s feeling good that will be soon we’ll start a pilot program where a prison’s going to get some journals. They’re going to introduce a gratitude practice for the inmates. I’m excited and curious to see how someone in that position is going to relate to that. I know it can be a very touchy exchange to give someone who’s locked up, “Write down what you’re grateful for.” I believe it will have a big impact in the long run, especially seeing the results from the yoga and meditation already happening in jails. Then there’s also the homeless community, which I’ve been thinking about how to reach with the power of gratitude, which is a tough one because you can’t just go around and give someone on the street or journal, but there’s not a real connection. I’m going to figure out how to connect with the homeless population. There are a few organizations out there that are doing cool things. We’ve been connected and just trying to figure out a way to implement gratitude journals into their programs that they use to help the homeless.
This is extremely fascinating in my opinion because you are a happiness expert.
I’m just beginning to learn all this stuff. To me, it’s awesome because I already feel happy, but I think there are so much more to learn and grow. I’m excited about that.
I would definitely classify you as a happiness expert. In my mind, the prisoners and the homeless, let’s say you’re moving forward with the prisoners but in your mind, if you were to approach them, what are they going to be happy for? What would you tell them to be grateful for?
I have never actually imagined myself interacting with the prisoners directly. To me, a lot of my gratitude comes down to my physical health and to see my mom’s physical health decline. I thought I can do that and not everyone can do that. I would try to encourage them to look at the core of what it means to be alive and breathing. For your body to be doing what it does on a daily basis, it’s literally a miracle. I want to learn more about the human brain, but it’s completely mind-boggling the functions that carry out every moment. If you just think about those things, “Thank you, brain. Thank you, heart. Thank you, liver, for doing all these things. I’m grateful I can exercise. I’m grateful I can talk and see and hear and color.” Imagine if there was no color. For someone in that position, I would try to introduce the basic principles of life.
How about the homeless? You walk up to a group of the homeless and you explain to them what your exercise is, what your journal is. In my mind, if I were homeless, it’s hard for me to even think that way. The way that my mind always operates is, “What is the objection going to be?” You walk up to somebody and say, “I want you to practice this.” What would you tell them to be grateful for?
I thought about what would happen if I just went around and gave journals to someone on the street. I haven’t because I don’t know what I would say. That’s a tough one. These organizations that I mentioned before, they’ve already established step-by-step programs that homeless people are open to being a part of but they graduate to the next level. It’s cool what they’re doing. In a system like that, it will definitely be easier to incorporate a gratitude journal, but just going to someone on the street that we woke up are the same things that I would share with someone locked up. If you just wake up every day and you’re like, “My feet are carrying me to the sink and there’s just water. I just turned this thing and fresh water comes out of nowhere. I close it and it’s gone. I opened it again, and there’s water there again.” If you start exploring gratitude, you just start seeing all these crazy things around you and you feel like you’re living in the magical world. The same things I would say to the prisoners.
I’ve been mind-blown with this conversation. It’s something so simple. It’s something so exciting. I realized the power and the impact. You are the happiness expert and I just totally support your mission. Where can my audience connect with you? Where can they reach out to?
On GratefulPeoples.com. My information’s up there. My email is up there. The best part for me has been meeting people and learning from them. I love when people reach out. Please reach out and share ideas.
Teddy, it’s been a blast. I’m glad that you came on the show. To the audience, go connect with Teddy. Practice your mindfulness, practice being happy and being grateful because the end result is being happy. Practice being grateful so you can be happy. The quote that I want to highlight, “When you’re truly present, only happiness can exist.” That’s a powerful statement. We’ll see you in the next episode. Take care.
About Teddy Droseros
Founder of Grateful Peoples and created a Gratitude Journal that is being used for a few social initiatives.