Hey hey! Welcome back to The Bullpen Sessions, where each week I sit down with abundant thinkers who are kicking ass in life, and guys, my guest today is the epitome of that description. I can’t wait to dig into his formula for a successful life, because I know it’s going to boost your happiness, confidence, and sense of purpose.

My guest today is Chris Schembra. Among his many accolades, USA Today called him the “guru of gratitude.” Chris demonstrates his passion for gratitude and his unique ability to create safe spaces for others to express gratitude every day through his company, the 747 Club. I’ll get into the details in a minute, but essentially the 747 Club hosts dinners and conversations for teams, groups, and companies. Each dinner includes both a lot of fun and a lot of deep conversation, all revolving around one central question:

“If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you DON’T give enough credit or thanks to, who would that be?” – Chris Schembra

Of course, COVID-19 has made it a little tough to hold in-person dinners, but Chris has soldiered on and created a fantastic Zoom format as well. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in both a live event and a virtual Zoom event, and I can tell you that both experiences are fantastic. There is tremendous value in considering, journaling, and sharing your gratitude, and I’m excited to have Chris here on the show to talk about that value today. This is one of the most philosophical conversations I’ve ever had on this podcast, and you’re definitely going to want to take some notes. So grab some paper and a pen, and let’s get started!

Who Is Chris Schembra?

Chris Schembra, the “guru of gratitude,” wasn’t always the joyful, confident guy he is today. Growing up in Hilton Head, Chris often found himself feeling lonely and insecure. He got good grades, but he still felt conflicted.

“I was a good, conflicted Southern boy. I did what I was told. I let them put medication down my throat every day since the age of five so I didn’t have outbursts. … I didn’t express the weird, confusing parts about myself. … I was a conflicted, confused, rambunctious, creative, and it was all yearning to come out.” – Chris Schembra

When Chris got to college, he hit rock bottom. He experienced depression, suicidal feelings, jail, and rehab. He was excluded from every party and social event, and he felt more alone and afraid than ever before.

Despite his struggles, Chris went on to have a successful career as a playwright, winning many awards, including Grammys, Tonys, and even some Emmys. He’s an incredibly talented guy, and he produced a Broadway play, The Little Flower, in Italy. That Italy trip was a wonderful experience, but when Chris returned, he found himself feeling lonelier and more unfulfilled and insecure than ever. Theater just wasn’t doing it for him anymore — He had to find something new.

Chris took some time to reflect on what made Italy so special, and he realized what it was: the food. In Italy, food is an incredible vehicle for beautiful culinary and community experiences. He invited 15 friends over for a dinner and asked that central question for the first time — and the idea for the 747 Club was born.

“And the tipping point was that 2:00 AM on a Monday in February of 2016 when I woke up in my bed, bawling my eyes out, realizing this is joy. The dinner table had saved my life.” – Chris Schembra

Today, the 747 Club is dedicated to helping teams and companies have the same experience around the table that Chris had for the first time back in 2016. He creates safe spaces and fun environments for people to express their gratitude, and he generates happiness and camaraderie as a result.

Chris has gone on to become the bestselling author of Gratitude and Pasta: The Secret Sauce for Human Connection. The book shares Chris’ philosophy of gratitude and empathy and will even teach you how to host your own dining events to foster intimacy and connection in your team. And finally, Chris is the host of the podcast 7:47 Conversations, where he interviews a variety of guests about their own stories and experiences with gratitude.

Chris’ beautiful work has earned him many more accolades, and all of them are very well deserved. Marketing Insider Group ranked him #5 on the “10 Motivational Speakers That Will Rock Your Next Event” list. Smart Hustle named him “Entrepreneur of the Year.” Clientele Luxury magazine said Chris was one of the “People of 2017,” and Good Men Project honored Chris as one of six successful men smashing the mental health stigma. 

I’m so inspired by Chris, and I’m grateful to him for joining me on The Bullpen Sessions today! If you’re ready to learn how gratitude can transform your life and create human connections, read on!

What Is Gratitude?

So much of Chris’ life and mission revolves around gratitude, so I wanted to get to the bottom of what gratitude really is. To do that, I started by asking him how he would have defined gratitude as a kid. Here’s what he said:

“I would have likely defined it … [with] a spiritual, a virtue-based undertone, right? … When I was young, [gratitude] looked like philanthropy or service to our community. I received so much value from my parents, from the elders in the community, from the people who would visit our little island, [and] from the sacrifice of our ancestors that I was wanting to give back.” – Chris Schembra

I think that’s a definition a lot of us would agree with. Gratitude is about paying back and expressing thankfulness for the things we’ve been given, right? But maybe that’s not the whole definition. Maybe there’s a little more to it than that. I asked Chris how his definition of gratitude has shifted over the last several years, and his perspective has undergone a change:

“Gratitude, as we know it now, [is] quite simply the acknowledgment that you’ve received something of value from others. And you are so full of ‘grate’ — which derives from the Latin word ‘gratis’ — You are so full of grate that you have to let that giver know, or you have to pay it forward. … The cool thing about gratitude is now we know it as a reciprocal altruism — that when someone is a giver around you, and they give something of value to you, you naturally want to give it back. But you don’t give it back because of reciprocity … you give it back because it feels good to give.” – Chris Schembra

Gratitude is about more than just paying someone back for something nice or engaging in philanthropy. It’s about feeling so much thankfulness and joy that you naturally want to pay that person back and also pay it forward. When you’re in a mindset of gratitude, you’re excited to give and that excitement coupled with the joy of altruism makes you happier.

“See, so long ago, we changed into a society essentially with the influence of Descartes … of, ‘I think; therefore I am.’ No, no, no. we prescribed the Ubuntu philosophy of ‘I am because of you.’” – Chris Schembra

I love that philosophy — Gratitude isn’t about me; it’s about you. It’s about living with an attitude and a mindset of service and love, rather than constantly chasing whatever makes us feel good. In that way, gratitude can be a powerful force for human connection — and that’s valuable for any company.

The Secret Sauce: Gratitude Around the Dinner Table

So let’s bring it back around to the 747 Club and how they integrate gratitude into dinner conversations. When Chris returned from Italy and experienced all that unfulfillment and insecurity, he started tinkering around in the kitchen, trying to recreate some of the delicious flavors and recipes he’d tried. He stumbled upon a sauce recipe he thought was pretty good, so he invited a group of friends to come over and try it. That night, the group had a truly unique experience, and ever since, Chris has been replicating that experience with groups around the country.

“Only when creating the safe space to fulfill the needs of a community did we finally find ourselves. And upon further inspection, we realized it wasn’t because of that pasta sauce. We realized it’s because [of] what we talked about every dinner: the principles of gratitude.” – Chris Schembra

So how does a 747 Club dinner work exactly? Well, being a playwright, Chris structured the evening just like a three-act play. For the first hour, guests arrive, enjoy cocktails and appetizers, and casually meet each other. Then, everyone receives a job: All of the guests help prepare the meal and set the table. Everyone participates, and the night becomes like a team-building exercise. Finally, at 7:47, Chris asks that central question: “If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life, that you DON’T give enough credit or thanks to, who would that be?” And the conversation continues from there.

“Everybody gets two to three minutes to share, and … if less than six people cry, we consider it a failed night. That’s what we’re put on this earth to do: that positive emotional transformation.” – Chris Schembra

It’s a night of vulnerability, empathy, and intimacy. It’s an experience where all kinds of new connections are made as people relate to each other in new ways. And while things have been different lately due to COVID-19, Chris’ 90-minute Zoom “dinners” offer the same opportunities to share and empathize. Chris leads the whole group in large discussion, and then he splits everyone into breakout groups for some more personal sharing time.

“And we close out the night talking about values, talking about the stuff that makes everybody feel like they belong. What do you have in common? Everybody loves loyalty, honesty, frugality, [and] trust, and those are the things that end us on a positive ‘woo woo’ type of feeling. … As Maya Angelou once said, ‘People won’t remember what you said. People won’t even remember what you did, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.’ And a Zoom has allowed us to do just that.” – Chris Schembra

Seriously, if you are a person who has coworkers, do yourself a favor and book a Zoom experience with Chris. You will dramatically increase your empathy, gratitude, happiness, and strength as a team. It’s an amazing experience, and I truly encourage you all to find a way to take part!

Why You Should Listen to this Chris Schembra Podcast Episode Right Now…

Guys, this interview with the one and only guru of gratitude was powerful. Chris has such a genuine, giving heart, and his passion for bringing people together is inspiring. He’s not that lonely and insecure kid he used to be anymore — Now he’s the master of creating safe spaces and making everyone feel like they belong. And that makes the world a better place.

To close out this post, I want to share with you Chris’ final words he gave to define gratitude:

“Gratitude is life. Gratitude is legacy. Gratitude is something far bigger than I will ever be. Gratitude’s a tool. Gratitude is a cheat sheet. … It’s a shortcut. Gratitude is a gift. Gratitude’s an experience. Gratitude is love, and gratitude is abundance. … And the best part is, it’s free, easy, immediate, and impactful.” – Chris Schembra

What an incredible way to sum it up. Gratitude really is the key to greater human connection — That’s why it’s an essential element of any business.

I hope you guys enjoyed this episode! I know I did. If you loved it, please share it on Instagram and tag Chris, @chris.schembra, and me, @andy_neary. And don’t forget to leave me a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Your ratings and reviews really do help this podcast reach new listeners!

I’ll catch you later, guys!

Andy Neary Signature