Stephen Colbert and Gratitude

A bit of a reprint, but this is more relevant than ever. Also, as always: 7 other things worth reading today.

Welcome to our new subscribers. Please share Understandably and suggest to friends and family that they should sign up too!

I’m Bill Murphy Jr. Welcome to Understandably, a daily email newsletter.
If you’re new here, why not add your info and sign up here


Comedy = tragedy + time

You probably know Stephen Colbert from his work as the host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. However, you might not know some of the tragedies he's endured during his life. 

Largest among them is that when he was 10 years old, he lost his father and two of his brothers when they were killed in a plane crash. 

I can't even imagine. Given how funny Colbert can be now, it makes me think of a quote by the late Steve Allen:

"Comedy is tragedy plus time."

But now, there's another quote to focus on.

It’s from an interview Colbert did with Anderson Cooper last summer:

Cooper: "You told an interviewer that you have learned to, in your words, 'love the thing that I most wish had not happened.' You went on to say, 'What punishments of God are not gifts?' Do you really believe that?"

Colbert: "Yes. It's a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There's no escaping that."

Holistic acceptance and gratitude

Colbert continued, speaking specifically of his father's and brothers' deaths:

I don't want it to have happened. I want it to not have happened, but if you are grateful for your life … then you have to be grateful for all of it.

You can't pick and choose what you're grateful for.

So, what do you get from loss? You get awareness of other people's loss, which allows you to connect with that other person, which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it's like to be a human being, if it's true that all humans suffer.

Gratitude. Literally every scientific study I've ever found on happiness talks about practicing gratitude. 

But what Colbert talks about here goes beyond that.

It's a holistic acceptance and a gratefulness that I've rarely seen articulated.

And while I'm fortunate not to have lost loved ones at a young age as he did, I think I can understand it.

Find a way to be grateful

Of course there are bad things that have happened in my life. Some were very painful.

But the easiest way for me to kind of synthesize this with Colbert is to ask:

  • Without them, would I be who I am today?

  • Would I be me?

  • Would I be with my wife?

  • Would I be the father to my daughter?

  • Would I have written this article and had the privilege of holding your attention for a little bit?

And if I'm grateful for all of that, how can I try to carve out the memories I don't like so much—the kids who bullied me in eighth or ninth grade, the unlucky financial decisions I made, or the mistakes I made in relationships that didn't turn out for the best? 

I’m sure you have your own bad memories to fit in that framework, along with the good ones.

Can you find a way to be grateful for all of them?

Gratitude, human connection, relationships. Literally, these are the bedrock of happiness.

They're incredibly difficult to achieve. Heck, it's hard even just to articulate them. 

And that's what makes it all so poignant.

Here's the video:

A big thank you

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, thank you to everyone who has subscribed to this email, and especially to those who’ve taken the time to write to me in response. (If you haven’t yet, I’d love to hear from you:

I’ve learned that your fellow Understandably subscribers are some very interesting and thoughtful people.

It’s also clear that’s an area of opportunity.

One big goal for me now is to find ways for you all to be able to see and interact with each other, if you’d like to.

More on that after the holiday. Enjoy it. And thank you to everyone who’s shared Understandably with friends, and encouraged them to sign up, too!

7 other things worth reading today:

  1. Check out the enormous "Super Guppy" airplane that NASA (still) uses to transport giant spacecraft like the Orion. (The Verge)

  2. No balloons? High winds are in the forecast for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and could likely ground the balloons for only the second time in 92 years. (The New York Times)

  3. FedEx says it will move 33 million packages on Cyber Monday alone. (Retail Dive)

  4. The Massachusetts State Police are now testing a "terrifying" robot dog. (WBUR)

  5. Theory: Mike Bloomberg might only be running for president because the law says a campaign can run his anti-Trump TV ads more cheaply than a political action committee can. (Business Insider)

  6. If anyone drinks Martinelli Sparkling Cider at your house on Thanksgiving, tell them they can thank Prohibition for the non-alcoholic bubbly. (AdWeek; paywall)

  7. California is suing In-N-Out for allegedly starting a wildfire. (Eater)

Photo is a screenshot from the video, hopefully Colbert and Cooper won’t sue me. Ideas and feedback actively solicited. Find me anytime on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter or via email at Be excellent to each other.