The proliferation of technology and social media have created a mental health crisis in our society today, especially among young people. This is in large part because we see the best 1% of others’ lives online, to which nobody’s life can measure up. Furthermore, social media provides a 24/7/365 platform for bullying and harassment. Addiction to our devices has exacerbated the problem because we are constantly connected to our screens instead of connecting with each other. I developed the Growing Gratitude Tree for my three children and others as a way to combat the aforementioned, and prepare them for this new world in which we live.
It all began years ago after starting my career as a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard, shortly after graduating with a degree in computer science. Over time, I personally started to see some of the negative effects from being heavily connected to screens. At one point, I made the decision to get off Facebook after realizing I didn’t always feel good about the time I spent there. Around that same time, out of personal curiosity, I began studying about general happiness and came across some very interesting research statistics. Most notably, I learned that baseline happiness of an individual typically returns to its starting point after approximately six months from seemingly life-altering catalysts, such as winning the lottery or becoming a quadriplegic. This was very eye-opening for me, and I began to seek out more information to determine what alters a person’s baseline happiness the most. A key concept that kept coming up was gratitude.
A light bulb moment for me occurred when I learned of the most popular class in Yale’s history entitled Happiness —Psychology and the Good Life. One of the big takeaways from the curriculum was practicing gratitude. At that moment, I realized that the Growing Gratitude Tree had much bigger potential to help people than I had ever imagined.
It was important to me to create a company with a mission-based philosophy in relation to my first product, and GratitudeMission.org was born. A large part of my company’s focus now is giving back to help the mental health crisis this country is facing, especially in youth, something which I am passionate about.
In October 2017 I heard about HSN’s first academy which would be held in Washington DC, less than an hour drive from my home. I immediately applied, excited to share the Growing Gratitude Tree, which was only conceptual at that point.
I was encouraged by the team at HSN to create a prototype of my tree and send it to them. Finding the right manufacturer was a daunting task, however, and took me months to figure out. I tried as hard as possible to find a U.S. manufacturer, but the materials and labor were just too cost prohibitive. And, going overseas opened up a whole new can of worms, with the added language barrier and quality control concerns. I eventually did find the ideal manufacturer, and to say I got lucky was an understatement, as it was truly like finding a needle in a haystack. While there was much stress and last minute scrambling, I’m proud to say I was able to locate a manufacturer on my own, without a middleman.
Shortly after developing the Growing Gratitude Tree prototype, I was given a purchase order and a fall HSN air date. That day was the biggest high I have ever experienced in my entire career, and I knew from that point on I would always desire and treasure the passion and excitement of being an entrepreneur.
The Growing Gratitude Tree, now available for purchase at www.GratitudeMission.org, is designed as a vinyl wall decal with branches that can be customized to fit into any wall space. Families write what each person is grateful for on color-coded leaves and add them to the tree, creating a beautiful wall mural that is a constant reminder of gratitude. Through this ritual, parents are able to instill the value of gratitude in their children, connect families together and increase happiness. New leaves are available each month for purchase or as a subscription service that coincides with a theme for that month.
I hope to launch new products through GratitudeMission.org in the future to further enable people to live a more connected, happier, and more grateful life.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
— Oprah Winfrey
MY BIG 3 BREAKTHROUGHS
Many are surprised when I tell them the Growing Gratitude Tree is not my first idea. In fact, it not my tenth; it’s probably close to my 95th. It’s how my brain is wired—to look for solutions to problems. I will be the first to admit I don’t always have great ideas, though I’m happy to have a circle of confidantes around me who tell me the truth, and the ideas keep coming!
Opportunities abound—it takes a little creativity, letting go of fear, and perseverance to turn a passion into a business. If you don’t know where to start, write a list of the top three things that matter to you, then see if there are any issues or problems you can identify that affects those top three items where viable solutions don’t already exist.
Test the market—You need to know that the problem you have identified is perceived similarly by many others as well and that they recognize your solution as the best fit to solve that problem.
Be flexible—Rarely does an entrepreneur come up with an idea that doesn’t change, tweak and morph, possibly hundreds of times, before it’s ready to successfully take to market.