On a cold night each November, Terrie O’Connor sleeps outside in a cardboard box situated on the frigid pavement of New Jersey’s streets. Often, many of her agents join her, setting up their own cardboard boxes close to her.
The founder and broker-owner of Terrie O’Connor, REALTORS®, makes the choice to sleep outside every year to bring awareness of and raise funds for homeless youth, many of whom have aged out of the foster care system. Thus far, O’Connor has raised over $200,000 for The Covenant House New Jersey, a national organization that provides immediate shelter and care for youth aged 18–21.
She also uses it to keep herself and her agents humble. An intentional gratitude practice is the undercurrent of O’Connor’s business. It also brings her great joy.
For Maribeth McCauley Lynch, C2EX, broker-owner of Thrive Real Estate Specialists in Shrewsbury, Mass., practicing gratitude is a way of life, so naturally, it became a part of her business.
“Like attracts like. We are a grateful company, and therefore attract grateful clients,” she says. “It’s magical and happens so frequently that we acknowledge it and continue the gratefulness.”
Building a Business Culture Around Gratitude
For both brokers, office culture revolves around gratitude year-round, not just for the holidays. That means agents must embody a spirit of gratitude as well. O’Connor says that for her, this means welcoming agents who understand the importance of community.
“For our company, we try to let people know that they matter,” she adds. “Some people don’t want that warm, fuzzy feeling, so they probably don’t work for us.”
The company trains agents through a Ninja sales program that talks about gratitude as a major theme. They also ask agents to read Bob Burg and John David Mann’s “The Go-Giver,” a book that emphasizes giving rather than getting as a priority in business.
As the founder and broker, O’Connor knows she sets the tone. She can’t expect her agents to operate in this way if she doesn’t, so she also makes sure she extends her heartfelt appreciation in the office.
To let her 40 staff members and 475 sales agents know how grateful she is for them, she writes each of them a written birthday card and a personal note on every commission check. She gives them an abundance of her time, setting up one-on-one luncheons to check in with them. When anyone in the office is sick, has a baby, or needs a pick-me-up, she sends flowers, small gifts or tokens of recognition.
When Lynch opened her brokerage in 2014, Shrewsbury’s town center had been all but abandoned, and she wanted to bring life back to it. It even lacked basic electricity. She decided to open her brokerage in the city center to revitalize the area. She formed the Shrewsbury Town Center Association so that community members could get involved, and she had electricity rewired throughout.
She saw Christmas as the perfect opportunity to bring more interest back to the town center as well.
“I wanted to bring Christmas lights to the center,” she says. Volunteers and community members followed her lead, and the Christmas lights turned into an annual holiday festival.
Dubbed “Yule Tide,” the outdoor holiday celebration brings in thousands each year, Lynch says. “We have a European outdoor market, food trucks, ice sculptures, flame throwers and more.”
The revitalization of the town center is one of the ways Lynch actively shows gratitude to her community. She believes that exuding a genuine appreciation and giving others the space to get involved leads to massive returns. “If you live your life with a baseline of gratitude, you keep getting gift after gift.”
This commitment to community is one she impresses on those in her office. “I will constantly talk about how we owe it to our community to give back and be grateful. That’s the cornerstone of our office. Literally gratefulness is our vision,” she says.
Giving Back in Myriad Ways
Along with revitalizing the town center by opening her brokerage there and forming an association, Lynch also donates time, money and goods to various organizations and causes. When clients are involved in an organization or event, she makes it a point to donate goods or make a financial contribution. She also takes time to handwrite notes to let people know what they mean to her.
Daily, she walks the town center for exercise, but even as she gives some time to herself, she’s looking for ways to give to others as well. “A smile on your face is catchy. It’s like a physical manifestation of gratefulness,” she says, noting that she makes it a point to share a smile with those she walks by.
During the holiday season, O’Connor gets busy giving back as well. Aside from her fundraiser for The Covenant House New Jersey, she sponsors a Thanksgiving food drive that helps many organizations and food pantries in her area.
She and her office also collect new and gently used winter coats throughout November. During the company holiday party, attendees are asked to bring an unwrapped toy or children’s pajamas, which go to a haven for women and children in Paterson, N.J.
Looking for a way to help those fleeing from the Ukraine war, O’Connor started the Grace Foundation. The foundation raises money to provide necessities like baby food and clothing to those who have been forced to flee from their homes.
Giving back to the community rubs off on her agents, she says. Some find ways to give to organizations that speak to them. Others join in on the efforts she’s already cultivated.
The Benefits of a Gratitude Practice
A culmination of research reveals that practicing gratitude offers long-term benefits for people’s minds, overall health and attitude. In fact, practicing gratitude is known to reduce the risks associated with heart failure, says a study by the University of California, San Diego.
Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California and a leading expert on the science of gratitude, writes that grateful people describe stronger positive emotions, experience more satisfaction with life, maintain higher vitality and optimism and face lower levels of depression and stress.
However, “Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life,” he continues. They don’t live in a rose-colored world but understand that gratitude can ease some of the pessimism and anxiety that comes with life.
A study conducted by UC Davis and the Gracianna Winery of Sonoma County in 2020 during the pandemic, showed that Americans were optimistic about the future despite COVID-19 and the various stressors the pandemic brought on about finances, health and leadership. Over 56 percent of the study’s respondents reported being very grateful in general. Sixty-nine percent expected to feel very grateful in the future.
In short, gratitude in business and in life pays dividends, and an attitude of appreciation goes a long way in maintaining a healthy mindset.
“I don’t take gratitude for granted. I preach it. I teach it. I talk about it, and I walk the walk as the leader,” Lynch says. “I’ve lived in this same community 32 years. I recognized early on, in order to really be successful, I had to treat others with no agenda—do the right thing and be involved and always give back.”