Gratitude lessons from SpaceX

Cicero: Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues but the parent of all others. Here are the insights I gained from SpaceX’s successful mission.

Lessons in Gratitude I learnt from the successful Crew Dragon mission
Image Credit: SpaceX

The Mission

Very few man-made objects can match the jaw-dropping spectacle as a rocket being launched into outer space, especially a human spaceflight. Like many others wanting a break from the bleak news cycle, I tuned in to watch the thrilling, goosebumps-inducing experience of SpaceX’s successful launch of Crew Dragon into Space with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken a couple of months ago.

I marveled at the stunning images the astronauts shared from the space station. Then, I watched Dragon’s splashdown and Captains Bob and Doug safely return back to Planet Earth. And then, eagerly, I watched the crew news conference to hear what the astronauts had to say about their mission and the lessons learned.

There was some expected talk about the value of Perseverance, Grit, Hard work, Human ingenuity, etc.

There were also, let’s say some ‘tech-speak’ about drogues, expected divergence in attitude control, nominal drogue deploy attitude, decel, disreef, etc. All of which sounded fantastic but I understood very little of. I guess it’s called rocket science for a reason.

Lessons learned from the Mission

But that’s not what caught my attention. I heard an underlying message in the news conference that stopped me in my tracks.

First, let me paraphrase some of the questions that piqued my curiosity:

  • Welcome back to earth, when is the puppy arriving? (Backstory: Capt. Bob had promised his son a puppy on his return)
  • What was the first thing you ate back on earth? (Answer: Pizza)
  • Who gets to keep Tremor (the toy dinosaur they had carried onboard)?
  • What memento did you leave on the ship for posterity?
  • What stunning images of Earth were you able to see from your windows on your descent?
  • Which family members/ friends did you call from your satellite phones?
  • How do you reacquaint with gravity?
  • What are some of the hard things to do in space? (Answer: can’t take a shower)

These questions, of course, humanized the mission. However, as I listened, I felt a wave of something hit me hard.

The Takeaway

Have you ever had the experience of intuitively knowing something, but couldn’t quite put a finger on it? And suddenly you see or hear something and it all becomes crystal clear. (I’m referring to something deeper than just finding your glasses perched atop your head).

An Aha moment. That’s what I had.

Today, as things stand, most of us can pretty much do every single thing that the astronauts could not do in space.

  • Eat pizza. Check.
  • Call friends and family. Check.
  • Take a shower. Check.
  • Walk without worrying about gravity. Check.
  • See the beauty of our world through your window. Check.

Here’s my insight:

You don’t need a trip to outer space to be grateful for what’s right in front of you.

So, why do we take things for granted? Why do we need an out-of-the-world-event (literally, in this case) to learn to appreciate what’s under our nose all the time?

What is Gratitude?

Here’s how I like to define it:

Gratitude is finding something good or positive in your life and attributing some of that goodness to someone other than yourself.

Let’s say you accomplish something or something good happens to or around you. Gratitude is the act of sharing that credit with the other forces that played a role in your accomplishment.

I recently baked a cake that got me a few compliments. Sure, I can thank people who said nice things about the cake. But gratitude is much more than that.

It is about thanking the whole supply chain that contributed to what could have easily turned into Caketanic (A Titanic-level cake sink. Been There. Done That). Gratitude means to thank:

  • The person whose recipe I followed
  • The publication that the recipe was in
  • Farm/factory/store each ingredient was sourced from
  • The Cake pan, The Oven, etc. etc.

I could list 700 reasons why the cake turned out well. Here’s the truth, though. The quality of the cake is directly impacted by every one of the above factors. Ostensibly some more than others, but they all matter in the end. So to take all the credit for putting it together is, let’s just say, selfish.

We can pretty much extrapolate this cake experience to anything good that happens in our lives. Why is it then, that we go about hogging all credit and acting like we’ve been gifted to the universe?

Basis of Gratitude

Is gratitude a social construct or are we wired to be grateful?

Us Homo Sapiens, at our very core, are wired for survival and if circumstances allow, thrive. This can be a rather selfish tendency. Even those we consider as unselfish beings are really out to protect, if not themselves, their own – family, community, country, species.

One of the ways we can continue to survive is by relying on one another and building trust. Research has shown that evolutionarily we develop well when there is reciprocity involved. Yes, I’m referring to the philosophy of ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’.

We learned early on as humans that when you’re grateful to another person, that person is likely to do you a favor in return. So selfishly, we learned how to be grateful. And it bodes well for us.

Benefits of Gratitude

It sounds so altruistic when someone is referred to as a grateful person. Other than an inflated ego, does it really matter? Yes. In the words of the great Roman philosopher, Cicero:

Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others


Cicero is said to be responsible for all of Europe’s philosophical vocabulary. Therefore, if he said it, it must be right.

Let’s say you actually followed my advice on Skepticism and aren’t very trusting that Cicero did actually say that. I have some irrefutable 21st century scientific research that extols the benefits of gratitude.

It is a well-established fact that gratitude leads to a whole host of benefits, for individual practitioners and for society as a whole.

Positive physiological changes

Research has shown that, in just 8 weeks, people who kept gratitude journals showed improved biomarkers related to Heart failure morbidity, such as reduced inflammation1. There are other studies that corroborate similar evidence.

In other words, your body heals itself, PHYSICALLY, when you practice gratitude. Allow that to sink in.

Encourages healthy habits

Being grateful sets off a chain of other positive health habits.  For instance, when you are grateful for your health, you tend to make healthy eating choices. You tend to start exercising. And you influence others in your sphere towards healthy activities.

There’s positivity all around just because you decided to be thankful. I’m not sure about you, but I prefer spending time with Pollyannas than Debbie Downers.

Psychological benefits

Grateful people tend to be less stressed. That’s a fact. After regular gratitude journaling or reflection, people tend to be in a better mood. That’s because despite how dark and gloomy they think their life is, they believe that some good things have happened to them. They start to view their glasses as half-full rather than half-empty.

And Others

I could keep going on and on with the benefits, but, really, aren’t you grateful I’m done?

The point is if your body, mind and spirit are all enriched through gratitude, why not pursue it seriously?

While it’s good to be anticipatorily grateful e.g. when you get happy thinking about an upcoming vacation, try to find happiness in where you’re at.  

You don’t have to spend money to buy gratitude or travel to places to see it. You simply have to experience a feeling of thankfulness and you are instantly rewarded with contentment. That’s the power of gratitude.

How to cultivate and practice gratitude?

Some people tend to be more grateful than others. Also, the same person can exhibit varying degrees of gratitude depending on how their day is going.

Regardless, of how grateful you consider yourself to be, you need to find a way to make gratitude a consistent daily habit.  Even if you don’t feel like it. Fake it till you make it.

Here are some ways to count your blessings:

Gratitude journal

Maintain a gratitude journal every day. Pick a number – 3, 5, 7, or 10 reasons – that you are grateful for each day.

I’m an ardent believer in gratitude journaling. It’s something I do unfailingly each day. I started with this practice during a particularly bleak period in my life. And to say, it’s been life-changing would be quite an understatement.

I maintain a daily journal of 10 reasons from the previous day that I’m grateful for. (Told you – I like lists).

Here are some pointers for you, if you adopt this practice:

Savor the moment

Don’t simply write out a list in a hurry. You need to stop, savor, and relive the moment that you’re grateful for. That’s the secret sauce to get all those benefits mentioned in the previous section.

When you savor the moment, you literally are giving you a brain a chance to fire up the same neurons that caused you the bout of happiness in the first place. A buy one, get one free shot at happiness! What’s not to love about it?!

Don’t be mechanical

It’s not about rattling off the same list day after day. Such as saying you’re grateful for your job, family, friends, house, the planet, etc. While that may be okay for the first couple of days, your brain gets bored with your repetition and will stop rewarding you with the happiness-inducing dopamine-production.

Instead, get specific. And find the little things that you can be grateful for. There’s never a shortage.

Here are some examples from one of my entries this week. I list them here to give you an idea of how to get specific.

  • The wind was on my back instead of on my face on my morning run making me #speedygonzales
  • The customer service rep solved my problem on my first call #neverhappens
  • Leftovers in my fridge so I didn’t have to cook a whole meal from scratch #wingingit
  • Free YouTube videos that showed me how to troubleshoot a leaking garbage disposal unit #pretenddiystar
  • The screen protector that saved my phone as I tested my poor juggling skills #thatwasclose
  • Alexa for playing me a random favorite retro-tune I had forgotten. It brought back such wonderful memories #isthesongthatold
  • The juiciest plum #lovesummer

Got it?

Fill a gratitude jar

Like contributing to a piggy bank or a loose-change jar, get a family gratitude jar going. Have all of your family members pitch in little notes into the jar.

Make it compulsory (only way to get teens to do anything).

Then, find a day – monthly, quarterly or semi-annually to open up the jar and just relive all the good things that have happened to everyone. Make it a take-out day (that always works with my lot)!

Thank-you calls and notes

Find time in your day to call someone or send a personalized thank you note to someone. This action delights recipients more than you will ever know. Try it. You seriously will make someone’s day.

I said notes/calls for a reason instead of actual physical gifts because big gifts can boomerang sometimes. People start maintaining IOU trackers on the size/value of the gift. Try to keep monetary considerations out of this exercise.

And, importantly don’t fake your call or note. You want the recipient to be happy, not gag.


Call it what you want but simply being with yourself and acknowledging the role of the universe in moving you forward can be cathartic. I have always stressed the power of Meditation. Now there is one more reason to start a meditation practice.

Practice summary

The above-listed ones work well for me. You can do a combination of these or feel free to come up with your own techniques.

Make gratitude an essential daily habit – above everything else. By doing that here’s the message you send to your brain,

Even if everything else turns to custard, I can find reasons to be thankful for.

Your brain needs to believe that. Your survival depends on it.


Be grateful NOW not WHEN you finish whatever project you’re working on.

You don’t need a cancer diagnosis to be grateful for your good health now.

Nor do you need to lose a loved one to appreciate your relationships today

Also, you don’t need to go to outer space to love Earth.

Gratitude is the hallmark of being human. If that’s too deep for you, just remember

Gratitude is like wine for the soul. Go on, get drunk!


  1. Redwine, Laura S et al. “Pilot Randomized Study of a Gratitude Journaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients With Stage B Heart Failure.” Psychosomatic medicine vol. 78,6 (2016): 667-76. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000316

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  • This post spot on TGIF gratitude endorphins hit, such a feel good, grateful for earth and lists of course, no way around those. I do believe in altruistic gene, it is how humanity will survive. They are embedded and enmeshed in us. Fabulous post.

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