Like other quarterly tax payers, I recently sent in my final contribution for 2011. I put a Love Stamp on the envelope.

That never would have happened in the past. I would have fussed and fretted and grudgingly written out my check.

Although I grew up with constant messages to be thankful and appreciative, those feelings were not familiar friends. Most of the time, I’d compare myself to others and I always came up short.

My classmates were more talented, more attractive, more intelligent. Other people had houses and cars that were far cooler than anything I owned.

The only time I came close to being thankful was when I’d hear a story of tragedy or misfortune. Whew, I’d think, at least I’m not a starving orphan in Africa. Whew, the tornado missed our town.

Stuff like that.

During an especially dark and difficult period of my life, I was horrified to discover some dreadful personal behavior. When my teenaged daughter would arrive home from school, I would begin to list all the mishaps that had occurred during her absence.

Then one day, I heard myself. I felt remorseful and was determined to change.

I came up with a plan. “Let’s make a pact to tell each other three great things that happened during the day as soon as you get home.”

That sounds like such a simple thing, but what happened next was nothing short of miraculous. For starters, I had to pay attention.

But that wasn’t the biggest change. Suddenly, I found myself purposely making sure that I had good things to report.

My focus shifted and before I knew it, good things were happening that I hadn’t consciously instigated myself.

That was only the beginning. I discovered that when I tapped into genuine gratitude, I began to uncover resources that had been hiding in plain sight.

This was heady stuff. For the first time in memory, I began to love my life. I stopped comparing myself to other people.

Gratitude knocked self-pity off its pedestal.

Eventually, I began keeping a Gratitude Journal. That had a surprising gift for me as well. Not only was I consistently reviewing my days and noting the things for which I was thankful, I was creating a resource to stop me when I was tempted to backslide.

On a day when I was feeling less than confident, I’d grab my journal and see page after page of all the blessings that had already shown up in my life.

It gave me my perspective back.

Many people who’ve turned their lives around report that change didn’t happen until they’d hit rock bottom. Emotional pain was the motivater for change.

You could test that for yourself, I suppose. Or you could experiment with practising genuine gratitude right here and now.

Writer Gustave Flaubert said, “The greatest goal in life is the not the attainment of fame. The principle thing in this world is to keep one’s soul aloft.”

Gratitude is the propellant for blasting your spirit into higher realms.

Show your appreciation. Start your own Gratitude Journal. Don’t overlook an opportunity to thank someone.

It’s impossible, after all, to stay grumpy where there’s so much to celebrate.

Most of us who have heard the Eastern proverb that goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” think that it refers to an individual who comes to guide us.

I’d like to suggest that the proverb applies to business as well. Your business can and will teach you to uncover hidden talents, to think bigger, to discipline yourself.

Of course, you might be able to learn those things in other ways, but it might not be nearly as much fun as it is in the classroom you create for yourself.

It would be impossible to identify all the things my business has taught me. Here are a few I do recognize.

* Building from the ground up is fun. My mentor used to say that we all have an architect within us, a force that wants to design and build things that have never existed before.

The joy of seeing an idea come into being is one of life’s great blessings—one that entrepreneurs have over and over again as they create new things.

* I can’t outperform my self-image. My business is always a reflection of what I think of myself and who I am in the world.  Once I learned this, working on maintaining a positive self-image and challenging self-doubts became a top priority that led me to a new area of study.

(For most of us, this is an on-going process, by the way.)

* Goal-setting works. Learning how to set goals and stay focused on results is indispensable to building a business. It’s also the way to inspire ourselves to stretch and go farther.

It still astonishes me that I never learned about goal-setting as a student in school. Once I discovered what it means, I became a practicing goalsetter and continue to amaze myself with how powerful it is to write things down and start building.

* It all balances out. Taking a long view is the secret weapon of every successful entrepreneur. Life is about ebb and flow; so is business, of course. If cash flow is down this month, it may be unusually large next month.

It takes a few years of being in business before you can really see how this works, but it’s still helpful to make this a basic assumption.

(Knowing this is also a fine stress reducing tool.)

* We live in a world of opportunity. I certainly didn’t know this in the days when I worked for others. Now, I am constantly in awe of how huge the possibilities are for anyone willing to take responsibility for discovering and acting on those opportunities.

(Of course, opportunities usually come disguised as a problem in need of solving.)

* The more I invest in my business, the more it returns the investment. When I spend my time and money in ways that stretch me, my business gets better. Books, seminars and other entrepreneurs are not  simply indulgences; they’re power tools for success.

Taylor Caldwell said, “The true purpose of education is to enlarge the soul, to widen the mind, to stimulate wonder, to give a new vision and understanding of the world, to excite the intellect, to awaken dormant faculties for the exaltation of the possessor.”

The true purpose of business is exactly the same, but in this course you get paid to learn.

What a great way to spend a life.