I believe that the simple act of saying “thank you” attentively can make us happier and wiser people. It is nutrition for the soul.
One day, before I became a mother, I was reading a letter in the Ann Landers column from a woman who wrote, “From the time my children could sit up and hold a crayon, I made them write ‘thank you.’”
This simple instruction hit me like an arrow to the brain. As the years rolled on, I sat my two sons down and made sure they wrote thank yous after all Christmases and birthdays, moving, over the years, from crayon to ballpoint to keyboard.
It took a long time for me to understand that saying thank you is not solely a courtesy to the gift giver. Equally important, when I say thank you I remind myself that we live in a world filled with beauty and abundance and the impulse to joy. It is a doorway to a moment in which I tell myself: pay attention, pay attention to how much you are blessed.
I believe that the world was made by a creator who loves us and wants us to enjoy it bounty. Wisely, the creator replicated that love for us in the love of parents and family and friends, however imperfectly we may show it. When a grandmother trudges through a big-box store to find the perfect toy for a little kid or a man on vacation picks up a souvenir for a friend back home, they are working as a stand-in for the creator who desires our happiness.
Saying thank you for these tokens of love is a vote against cynicism, against self-pity, against discontent. We don’t need reminders that we are surrounded with plenty evil and despair. But saying thank you is a portal into the other, equally true side of reality.
When my son was a high school wrestler, team members had to sell ads to local businesses for a tournament program. Later I told him to deliver a copy of the program and to say thanks to everyone who bought an ad from him. Now, years later, the owner of a jewelry story in town still greets me as the mother of the kid who came back to say thanks. When she reminds me I remind the kid. Sometimes I get the eye-roll, meaning, yes, Mom, I get your point.
Does he? The proof may come 30 years from now, when a teenager wanders into his business, asking him to buy an ad for a school activity. It will be a moment when he can transmit his thanks into the past and his goodwill into the future in one clean gesture.
We are all works in progress, trying to be our better selves, to live up to the good things that the universe has given us. Saying thank you is one way to remember this, and to keep rising.
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