Get a head start by making appreciation a daily practice
In 1982 actor Kirk Douglas was asked to make a documentary highlighting the plight of the three million Afghani refugees who fled into neighboring Pakistan. That November, Douglas flew to Pakistan where he began meeting with refugees. Near the Khyber Pass he sat on the ground with the elders of an Afghan tribe as they shared a simple meal. Through an interpreter, Douglas told them, “In my country, today is Thanksgiving Day, one day every year that we set aside to give thanks for all that we have in life.” After listening to Douglas, the leader of the elders, himself a refugee with an uncertain future, responded, “In my country, we give thanks every day.”
That refugee’s comment is insightful. Rather than waiting for an “official” day in November, we need to express daily gratitude for the pleasures, courtesies, and blessings which constantly come our way. Here are some suggestions for maintaining the attitude of gratitude each day.
“Do” your thanking
In her novel, I Heard The Owl Call My Name, Margaret Craven tells of a young cleric sent by his bishop to a remote parish among the Kwakiutl Indians in British Columbia, Canada. He discovers the Indians do not have a word for “thank you” but soon finds that these people have exceptional generosity. Instead of saying thanks, it is their custom to return every kindness with an equal or superior kindness. They do their thanks rather than speak their thanks. Their custom is worthy of our consideration.
Here is one contemporary example of “doing our thanking.” Marjorie, a single parent with two preschool aged children, worked full-time and never had enough hours in the day to get everything done around her small apartment. Most mornings she dropped her children off at day-care and then headed out for work exhausted. Left behind were unwashed dishes and a hall in disarray where brooms and mops never stayed on their hooks.
One day her oven wasn’t working so she requested a service call from the public utility company which fixed appliances for a nominal fee. Since she could not be home, Marjorie informed them she would leave the front door unlocked. That evening she returned home with her children, dreading the housework. To her astonishment she found not only a repaired stove but an immaculate kitchen. The dishes had been washed, all dinner wear carefully put away and the floor scrubbed. Tears welled up Marjorie’s eyes as she read this note left by the repairman: “My mom was a single mom, too. So I tidied up for you in honor of my own hardworking mother.”
Begin each day with a gratitude moment
“Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies,” noted Charles Edward Jefferson, a New York City minister and writer. Every day when you first rise, make time to reflect on the blessings in your life and express thanks. Television entertainer Oprah Winfrey does this. “The first thing I do when I wake up is pray, or meditate, for people who are more comfortable with that term,” she says. “It’s a time of solace in which I take a few moments to appreciate all I have.”
Winfrey also pauses during the course of the day to offer gratitude. “Before I go down to tape the show, I do the same thing. I make it a point to be alone so I can say thank you for this opportunity.”
Express your appreciation
People are quick to call in with a complaint but not as many people take the time to express appreciation. Yet a verbal or written expression of thanks delivers a blessing to the one receiving it as well as the one giving thanks.
Recently, Stephen, a resident of Seattle, was shopping at a large department store in the city. When the closing bell rang, the employees made quick exits, all except one. That retail clerk had been on his way out, but when he saw Stephen he placed his raincoat on a chair and helpfully answered questions about the item Stephen was interested in. “I asked him if he was a clerk or a manager on that particular floor. ‘No,’ was the reply, ‘I’m a salesclerk on the fifth floor.’ ”
Impressed by that clerk’s thoughtfulness, Stephen returned to the store the next day and spoke with the store manager. He expressed his thanks for the clerk’s help and his willingness to work after the store was officially closed.
“Two weeks later I got a letter from the store clerk. He thanked me for going to the manager of the store and added, ‘I have been promoted to the position of manager of my floor!’ ”
Review to renew gratitude
“Nothing more detestable does the earth produce than an ungrateful man,” wrote the ancient Roman poet Decimus Magnus Ausonius. The ungrateful are like spoiled children who just don’t see and appreciate the many good things in their lives. Ingratitude is always the result of distorted thinking.
The corrective is to review our lives in order to renew gratitude. An excellent example is the best-selling author James Michener. His mother abandoned him at birth and was later adopted by Mabel Michener. A troubled child, Michener ran away from home while in his teens and lived as a vagabond riding the rails.
In spite of his painful personal history, Michener, upon reviewing and reflecting on his life, expressed profound gratitude. Of his adopted mother he says: “This fine, hard-working woman always read to us at night. By the time I was five, I had the great rhythm of the English language echoing in my mind.” Michener is also grateful for a kind coach in his life: “I learned values in school, where a high-school athletic coach took me–fatherless and without a rudder–and steered me in the right direction.”
The author also expresses gratitude for his exposure to books at an early age. “My intellectual life was saved by the Doylestown, Pennsylvania library that opened when I was seven.” Michener recalls that the first two cards taken out were issued to him and to Margaret Mead. “What a start for us; what a start for the library.”
Fill someone else’s cup
When you become aware that someone has made an uncommon sacrifice on your behalf, go back and thank them. Fill their cup with your gratitude. In his book, Koop: The Memoirs of a Former Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, M.D. recalls his youngest patient. “One day at Children’s Hospital I got a phone call from a nearby hospital about a dying newborn with a diaphragmatic hernia. I drove there at breakneck speed. The elevators weren’t working, so I ran up to the ninth floor, wrapped the baby in a blanket and ran back down.” At Children’s Hospital Dr. Koop placed the baby on the table but by then the little boy was dark blue and lifeless. “With no time for sterile precautions, I opened up his chest and massaged his tiny heart with a finger until it began to beat. Then I finished the operation,” he recalls.
About 25 years later, Dr. Koop’s secretary ushered into his office a six-foot-four young man. The man whose life Dr. Koop had saved years earlier had come to express his thanks. He said simply, “My father thought you’d like to meet me. You operated on me when I was 55 minutes old,” the man said. Dr. Koop was so overjoyed at the man’s expression of gratitude after so many years that he ran around his desk and hugged him.
It’s never too late
Don’t get down on yourself if you neglect an opportunity to express gratitude. Simply remind yourself that it’s never too late to say “thank you” and find an appropriate way to do just that.
Consider this woman who wrote advice columnist Dear Abby, explaining: “I was one of those brides who didn’t sent thank-you notes for her wedding gifts. I didn’t know very many members of my husband’s family who had sent gifts, so I didn’t know what to say. I thanked them in person when we finally met, but I always felt a little guilty because I had not sent a thank-you note.”
Fifteen years later, the woman began writing notes to all who sent a wedding gift. If she didn’t remember the specific gift, she simply thanked individuals for helping them when they were starting out as a couple. Her letter to the columnist concluded: “Abby, I got more calls and letters! People were tickled that I had remembered them–even at that late date. My husband’s grandmother has saved that letter and shows it to everybody. It’s never too late to say thank you.Ó
Finally, keep in mind that our English word “thanks” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for “think.” All we have to do is stop, think, and then we will find many reasons to be thankful for the multitude of blessings which flow into our lives every day.