“Can you say thank you?!” You probably remember hearing those words as a kid when someone gave you something, or did something nice for you. It is, of course, good manners to utter those words to express our gratitude, and most of us still do, as a polite response to acts of courtesy, respect, or kindness. Unfortunately though, the ritual of expressing thanks has lost much of its meaning and impact as we have come to practice it mindlessly, just as we do with many other routine conversations like asking, “How are you?” without genuinely wanting to know the state of the other person’s well-being.
I can think of one such routine conversation in my life, a ritual that started 35 years ago when I started dating my wife. I learned very quickly that it was important to her to be told that I loved her at the end of our phone conversations, and I have done so since then. On one occasion a couple of years ago, however, I suddenly recognized after hanging up that I was uttering the phrase, “I love you,” so automatically and as a matter of routine that it no longer conveyed a message of any substance. Having had that epiphany, I immediately called my wife back and told her what I’d just realized and went on to express to her in very specific and intentional terms how much I appreciated having her in my life and what a blessing she was to me. As you can imagine, this non-routine conversation communicated a message to my wife that one thousand routine comments would not have. The surprising part was what it did for me.
As I pondered how grateful I was for my wife for who she had been for me and the contributions she had made to my life, and as I expressed that gratitude, it was as if I felt a concentrated dose of all that I was grateful for in that moment. It was then that I knew, based on the experience I had just had, that gratitude was the final step in the process of me receiving something. It became clear that everything I was taking for granted made my experience of life bland, and it wasn’t until the magic spice called genuine gratitude was added that I truly experienced the joy of having received whatever was intended to be given to me.
I’m convinced that it’s not how much you have but how grateful you are for what you have that makes the feeling of abundance available. You could have a million dollars in the bank and dine in fine restaurants every night and feel lack and scarcity if you don’t take the time to truly acknowledge how great you have it. On the flip side, someone living in poverty could experience much more joy just to receive a meal from a stranger. I don’t mean to imply that having more automatically makes us ungrateful. I am only suggesting that whether you have a little or a lot, the extent of your satisfaction likely depends on how truly grateful you are for what you have.
When others express gratitude to me for something I have done, it confirms that what I intended to bestow upon them has indeed been received. The presence of an attitude of gratitude is also a strong indicator of the culture of an organization. Every healthy organization I have been exposed to has been one in which gratitude is abundantly felt and expressed.
There is no time like the present, especially for those of us who live the US, since tomorrow is our Thanksgiving holiday, to be intentional about pausing and being genuinely grateful for what we have. What’s even better is to take the time and effort to go beyond feeling and being grateful, and actually express it in a meaningful way to someone. My hope for you is that this message will compel you to pause and give thanks for all the things and people that you are grateful for. Join me, if you will, in expressing gratitude in a specific and meaningful way to at least three people in the next 48 hours.
Meanwhile, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving this week or not, I hope that you will take on being grateful and watch it spice up your experience of life. May you always give without remembering and receive without forgetting.
To my readers in the States, Happy Thanksgiving!
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