Stefan: So, my journey to gratitude began four years ago, when I was in a very, very dark period in my life. Nothing was going right. I had lost two opportunities for employment. I was part of a startup where I was forced out of the startup, essentially.
And so I just started feeling my life is just going down the drain, it's like, I've accomplished nothing, I don't feel good about myself, I don't feel good about my relationships.
I don't feel I can trust anyone in my life. Who do I turn to? What do I do? And it was at that point, where I sought out a good friend of mine, who said, "Look, don't rush to judgment here. Don't try and do something that you're going to regret later."
And I knew what she meant by that. She talked me down from the ledge as it were, she and a friend of hers who is a therapist. David was very, very helpful to me in processing what was going on, and how to try and transition to a better place.
It was in April of 2018 when I found the Gratitude app. And when I started to understand the importance of gratitude, of the fact that I can breathe, that I have a beautiful apartment, that I live in a beautiful community.
That even though my financial situation and my employment situation wasn't very good, and it was really, really hard for me, I didn't know whether or not I was going to make it, there were still things I could be grateful for.
I could be grateful for my friends who are being supportive. I could be grateful for David and Anne, who stepped up at the darkest point. I mean, if I only pointed to one moment that I could be grateful for, that would be it. That was the turning point.
And I always tell Anne, that her intervention was a turning point that she orchestrated and that I will be forever grateful that she gave me this second chance to rebuild my life. So I started to come out of it.
I sought out counseling, I joined a group in which I could better express my feelings. And I understood the power of gratitude by just seeing what other people are going through. It's like I felt so isolated and insulated.
I just didn't think about the problems that other people were facing, in some cases worse than mine. I began my journey into using gratitude every day. I combine it with prayer and meditation.
I do it every morning and every night. I have a gratitude list, which I read every morning and every night, of the things that the big things that I'm grateful for.
I express gratitude really at any point during the day. Like just last week. I couldn't get my smartphone to work for Google Pay to pay for a cup of coffee. And this total stranger came up to me and said, "Let me buy your coffee for you." And I said, "Oh, you don't have to do that. I'll just go out and ask my friend for it." He said, "No, I want to do this."
And so the second lesson that I learned is accepting gratitude, accepting when people want to do something for you. Because as much as we can be grateful for the actions and the small and the big things that happen to us, we also have to be open to receiving them.
I could have easily walked away and said, "No, no, no, I'm not going to accept your gesture here." Instead, I said, "I am so grateful for this. Thank you so very much. I really, really appreciate this." And I WAS THANKFUL from the bottom of my heart! I mean, I kept talking about it the rest of the day with my friends. I said, "You can't believe what happened!"
And they couldn't believe it. So that's a small indication of how my life has turned around in that way. And there have been many other examples of similar acts of kindness.
Where I went into a sub shop, and I wanted a brownie with my order, the kid at the counter said, "Oh, just put it in the bag, just take it." And I said, "No, no, I should pay for it." But he said, "Don't worry about it. Just take it."
Aarushi: That's a new thought for me, that you should be accepting gratitude. I have thought about this in isolation. Yeah, that is a great thought. I'm going to think about it. Why did you download the Gratitude app?
Stefan: I felt I needed something daily, that I can lean on, where I can trust that the content is going to guide me in a good way. And frankly, that's not easy to do online.
There are a lot of apps. Sometimes you have to go through several apps before you find one that works. I don't know how the Gratitude app popped for me, I guess it was just meant to find me. And it did.
I started creating affirmations, I read my Daily Zen, I read your blog, and listen to your podcast, which is very, very helpful. But all of these in combination, what they do is create this awareness for me that gratitude should not be forced.
Gratitude should come from your heart. That you are truly happy for what life offers to you, "Oh, my gosh, I have a great breakfast waiting for me", or "Oh my gosh, I have this amazing trip to see my friends, I survived the pandemic.
I get to see my friends because I got vaccinated. And how many millions of people are still not vaccinated, some who cannot get the vaccination?”
When you think about that, and I posted this to my Facebook page when I returned from my trip, is that one of the things I was really grateful for on my trip was that my best friend and I were able to play tennis, three straight days in a row.
And during one changeover, we paused and took a water break, I said to him, "You know, we need to be grateful for the fact that we are out here playing. We can run around and play and play at a high level because we survived the pandemic."
Because I was truly afraid. My friend had major open-heart surgery back in 2018. That was right around the time that I discovered the Gratitude app. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to put life on hold and spend time with him and his wife as he recovered.
Staying with him and helping him through his recovery helped me better process what was coming to me in the Gratitude app. And so at that moment, when we were playing tennis, I just stopped, and I said we have to be grateful for this opportunity.
We have to be grateful that we got through all of this. And that we're here and we're playing tennis. The game we love.
Aarushi: Wow. So how did this behavior become a part of you? How did you start to feel grateful in every moment, pausing to see look around and realize that you should feel grateful?
Stefan: Okay, so this is a very hard admission to make. But I suppose this is part of my journey, my continuing journey on gratitude. I literally ran out of money, I lost everything. And I was preparing to not survive.
This was May of 2020. And I decided to make one last phone call to somebody who I thought I could trust with this idea I have for a startup. I said, "Eric, would you please take this and run with it because I'm not going to survive."
I had to leave a voicemail message; he wasn't there. I said, "Would you please take my idea and grow it into the company that I've been dreaming of? Because I know you can do it. And I trust you. Thank you for doing this for me."
I was prepared at that point, you know, that was it. Five minutes later, he called me back.
And he was like, "What are you talking about? What's going on? What's happening?" I told him, and he said, "I'm going to send you some money right now. Don't do anything, I'm going to send you some money right now."
Literally, he bought me enough groceries for a month, so that I could eat and I could get back on my feet. Then my cousin Suzanne said, "Wait a minute, you qualify for the pandemic unemployment, why aren't you applying for this?"
So I did. And I got a whole back trove of money, which allowed me to pay my bills and get back on my feet. I kept praying, and I kept being grateful for the time and the opportunity to get a second chance to rebuild my life.
In a miraculous moment, an agency here in Massachusetts repaid all my rent. So I'm almost 100% square. Like, it's a miracle, it is absolutely miraculous because I didn't think I was going to get through this one last hurdle.
I'm still not sure I will make it. I owe a lot of money But I am building my startup, I've got a great team. I've got people helping me with finding money so that we can secure investors for the startup.
So... I'm getting a little choked up as I talk about this, because it's just, it's gratitude, it's miracles. It's really being grateful for every breath I take.
Aarushi: Thank you. Thank you for sharing this. I didn't know that this question would lead you to share this with me, but...wow...
Stefan: You're one of two people that I've shared this with. My good friend, Mark, who has been a constant source of support to me, we check in every week. He knows everything that I've gone through.
He's been there every step of the way. But you're the first person with whom I have no relationship, that I've shared this. And it was a little hard to share it. But I'm glad I did.
Aarushi: Thank you so much. If you want, I'll edit this out of the podcast episode-
Stefan: No, no, no, it's totally okay to keep it in because there might be somebody who listens to this who's going through something similar. And if I can help them realize that there's a way out.
That there's a way out of the darkness, to not give up hope, to start with the very small things, that you have a bed to sleep in, that you have a little bit of food to eat whatever it is, that you have one or two people who can be there for you and who can help you figure it out.
You're not alone. You're not alone in this world. And there is a way out. So yes, no, I want you to keep it in. Because I know there's probably somebody out there struggling.
I've read some of the gratitude stories and some of them have just been, "Oh my gosh!" Really, really tough stories. I want people to feel like they're not alone. That's really, really important to me. You're not alone.
People go through this, people who have a great education. I was educated at Harvard; I have an MBA. It's funny, Aarushi, because we tend to create these images of what people should look like, based on things that have very fleeting value.
The real value is discovering why God put you on this earth. What is inside of you, that gift that you can share? And I see this as part of it. I really do. My friend, Mark will say, "How are you staying sane through all this?"
And I say, "Because I'm not alone, because I know, I'm not alone. I'm meant to go through this journey to discover that gift inside of me that I can share with people. I meant to go through this, let's not look at this as the end of the world. Let's look at this as the beginning of something really important."
Aarushi: So, in the end, would you like to put it in a succinct way of how your journey was from the point of not having hope and to this point where you're beginning something so incredible?
Stefan: Probably the most succinct way I can put it is, it's a life well lived and continues to be well-lived.