The last line in My Cousin Vinny, the sidesplitting 1992 comedy, was spoken by Mona Lisa Vito, a smart-mouthed character played by Marisa Tomei, who won an academy award for her performance. Mona Lisa wanted to jerk the chain of her disagreeable fiancé, Vinny Gambini, the character played by Joe Pesci, because Vinny wouldn’t allow Mona Lisa to help him win his first criminal law case. All through the movie Mona Lisa kept pestering Vinny and asking him what she could do to help out, but Vinny relentlessly resisted. He wanted to win it on his own. It wasn’t until the end of the movie that Vinny gave in and asked Mona Lisa to be his expert witness. After winning the case, Mona Lisa offered this prediction about how Vinny would win future cases, too: “And then afterwords,” she said, “you have to go up to somebody and you have to say thank you……What a f***ing nightmare!”
Imagine that the universe is like the Mona Lisa character. It wants to help you and to you give you what you want. Just like a parent at Christmastime, the universe gets deep satisfaction and joy from giving. Now imagine that humans are like the Vinny character. Vinny was unwilling to receive, and he actively resisted it with his attitude and whining. Holding resistance in your mind is the surest way NOT to get what you want. In fact, it’s like a big giant "no" on steroids. The problem is that most of us don’t realize that our own lack of gratitude is a form of resistance, in which our power works against us.
Instead, we’re programmed to mistakenly believe that resistance to receiving is polite and that it’s more humble and socially appropriate to deflect gifts. Or maybe we’re worried we might have to give something back. Or maybe, underneath it all, we don’t feel worthy to receive goodness in any form. My personal vote is for option 3, lack of worthiness. Of course, everyone is inherently worthy, but not feeling and not believing in your own worthiness is another story.
When you don’t feel worthy, you hold the dirty, untrue thought in the back of your mind that you don’t deserve to get what you want. When I was a girl of about nine or ten, one of my aunts brought me a gift from her recent trip to Africa. She showed me two exotic native necklaces, and said I could pick whichever one I wanted. Can you believe I picked the less attractive one, the one I didn’t want? I thought the most beautiful necklace was too nice for me to have.
This is the kind of perverse, self-sabotaging thinking we all need to be aware of so that it can be systematically undone. Gratitude is an easy, powerful tool in your bag of tricks for turning your mind around and getting it on the right track – the track that says "I deserve," the track that says I am worthy of goodness and the best that the world has to offer. If you don’t actively work at changing your mind about your own worthiness, your mind will stay where it is, stuck in a rut. On some level, you probably realize this already.
Here are the two most common ruts that I observe in others and that I work hard at correcting in myself. First, whenever I give a gift to a friend or a hostess, for example, the most frequent response I hear is oh, you shouldn’t have or you didn’t have to bring me anything. And second, if I give a compliment, the most frequent response is to refute the compliment in some way. If I say you look fabulous, my friend might respond by saying but I’m so fat.
People rarely just say thank you and leave it at that. When they do say thank you, it’s usually a conditional thank you prefaced by an off-putting remark of some kind. Don’t do this for me; don’t do that, it’s too much, blah, blah, blah. Because I aspire to be a loving being, I do my best to honor requests my brothers and sisters ask of me. So I stop giving unwanted gifts, and I stop offering unwanted compliments because that is what is asked of me.
Do you give out this “don’t give me anything” vibe and therefore create the same corresponding response from everyone you meet in the universe?
Believe it or not, the universe really is at your command, and it will give you whatever you want. That’s the rule. The question you have to ask is, what do you really want? Are you giving yourself the prettier exotic necklace? Or, like the younger version of me, are you holding back and picking the less attractive necklace that you don’t want because you think that’s all you deserve?
You make the decision about what you want with your attention. Your attention tells the universe how to respond and what to do. If you’re blocking gifts or compliments or affection, then your attention is on not getting. It’s like holding up a wordless sign that says "No." The universe, of course, responds accordingly. If, however, you’re accepting gifts and compliments and allowing affection, then your attention is on receiving. The silent sign you’re holding up says yes, bring me this and bring me more of it.
It’s relatively easy to break through your internal resistance and turn your nightmare where you don't get what you want into a dream where you do. All you have to do is express two simple one-syllable words: thank and you. Conveniently, these two words are already in your vocabulary. Don’t muck it up with any qualifiers, excuses, conditions, complaints. Just say thank you. Try it now. It’s not hard, is it?
Even better, saying thank you always makes you feel good about yourself and others. That’s the miraculous life-enhancing part where your feelings of worthiness are awakened in you. Thank you means yes. Yes, I want. Yes, I allow. Yes, I accept. Yes, I receive. Yes, I will give you the pleasurable experience of giving to me. Yes, I am good and you are too. Yes, yes, yes. My most favorite word.
If the incorrigible Vinny Gambini can learn to say thank you, you can too. Give yourself a daily skill-building goal to say thank you at least ten times a day, more if you’re really inspired. Say thank you to your significant other for sharing his or her life with you. Say thank you to the grocery bagger for the careful pack job. Say thank you to airline pilots for a safe and comfortable ride. Say thank you to your ancestors for heat and electricity on demand. Say thank you to the people at the town dump for making the world a cleaner, greener place to live. Say thank you to the people who wait on you in restaurants for their willingness to serve. There is no end to your opportunities to notice goodness and to give thanks for it.
By the way, dear reader, thank you for your attention to this article. I wrote it because it’s the lesson I most need to learn.