Sheryl Sandberg – Find Your Gratitude

American technology executive, activist and author Sheryl Sandberg delivers an emotional speech at the commencement of the University of California.


One year and 13 days ago, I lost my husband Dave. His death was sudden and unexpected. I walked into a gym to find him lying on the floor. I flew home to tell my children that their father was gone. I watched his casket being lowered into the ground. I was swallowed in the deep fog of grief, what I think of as the void. An emptiness that fills your heart and your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even to breathe. I learned about the depth of sadness and the brutality of loss.

But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void, or in the face of any challenge, you can choose joy and meaning. You will almost certain face more and deeper adversity. There’s loss of opportunity. The job that doesn’t work out. The illness or crime which changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity. The sharp sting of prejudice, when it happens. There’s loss of love, the broken relationships that can’t be repaired. And sometimes, there’s loss of life itself.

But I want to talk about today is what you do next, about the things you can do to overcome adversity no matter when it hits you or how it hits. The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days, the days that challenge you to your very core that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve but by how you survive.

One day, my friend Adam Grant, a psychologist, suggested that I think about how much worse things could be. “Worse?” I said to him. “Are you crazy? How could things be worse?” He looked at me and said, “Dave could have had that same cardiac arrhythmia driving your children.”

The minute he said it, I felt overwhelming gratitude that my children were alive and that gratitude overtook some of the grief. A year ago, he had 11 days left. And we had no idea. And then through tears, we asked each other how we would live if we knew we had 11 days left. Can you ask yourselves to live as if you had eleven days left? I mean, live with the understanding of how precious every day would be, because that’s how precious every day actually is.

I stand here today, a year after the very worst day of my life, the worst day. The worst day I can imagine. And two things are true: I have a huge reservoir of sadness. It is with me always. It is right here, where I can touch it. I never knew I could cry so often or so much.

But for the first time, I’m grateful for each breath in and out. I’m grateful for the gift of life itself. I used to go to bed every night worrying about all the things I did wrong that day, and trust me, the list was wrong. Now I go to bed trying to focus on that day’s moments of joy.

It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude. Gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, and the laughter of my children. As the saying goes, “We are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.” My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude, not just on the easy days like today, but on the hard days when you will need it. When tragedy or [disment?] strike, know that you have deep within you the ability to get through anything, and I mean anything. I promise you do.