Over the past few months, I’ve given about four gifts … and not gotten one thank-you note.
OK, so maybe I’m thin-skinned, maybe I want more recognition than I deserve, maybe I need a blast of trumpets when I do something. Or maybe, I hesitate to say this, the gifts just weren’t good enough.
On the other hand, maybe we’ve forgotten how to say thank you, so why the heck do we bother to celebrate Thanksgiving? Just so we can eat turkey and pumpkin pie? Let’s encourage the new Congress as its first official act to change the name of this venerable national holiday to Turkey Day and leave it at that.
We’re unaccustomed to saying thank you because we think we’re owed what we get. We always want more or we’re not satisfied with what we have or we’re envious of what other people have.
Before I get worked up, let me say I was absolutely delighted on Halloween — that other great national holiday — because I calculate 95% of the kids who came to the door said thank you, and if I were in their shoes, I would have been grumbling instead of being grateful because all they got were a couple of those fun size Snickers. It wasn’t enough candy to fill a cavity and certainly not enough to create a cavity.
Nevertheless, they were thankful, which made me feel so good that next year I might give out those large Hershey bars we got as kids, which were big enough to feed two teenagers and a toddler.
There’s a lot of research that links gratitude to good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, not to mention good dental hygiene. Grateful people don’t report as many health problems. They enjoy more happiness and suffer less depression and stress. They have higher self-esteem because rather than comparing themselves with others, they’re thankful for what they have. They’re also more empathetic and less resentful. Plus, they get a good night’s sleep.
A few years ago, I bought a pad with the heading “Today I am thankful for” and every day I fill in the blanks. My life changed once I got into the habit of thinking about everything I have to be grateful for, even though I still don’t sleep well.
My friend Bill Mitchell, vice chairman of Mitchell Family Stores, knows a little bit about men’s fashion, but his favorite clothes item isn’t a Brioni suit. It’s a t-shirt that simply says “Gratitude.” He is known for writing five or more thank-you notes a day, and he says the attitude of gratitude is fundamental to his life and his sobriety.
Get into the habit of saying thank you. Never take another person’s kindness for granted. Say thank you to someone who holds the door. Say thank you to someone who compliments you. Say thank you to the motorist, who lets you get in his lane. Say thank you for the sake of saying thank you, and you’ll change the world.
The wonderful thing is that the person you thank will feel good, and you’ll have single-handedly made the world a better place.
Taking a page from our Pilgrim forefathers and foremothers, we should also thank God for what we have. My experience has been that people who don’t think they have anything to be thankful for aren’t looking hard enough. And the people who have the most to be thankful for are often the ones least inclined to say thank you. They don’t think of what they have as blessings as much as acquisitions.
On Thanksgiving, remind yourself, your spouse and your family about everything you have to be grateful for. Go around the table and let them contribute to the list. Once you get into the routine, you won’t want to stop.
For many of us, Thanksgiving is little more than an occasion to eat turkey and watch football, and we often make the mistake of confusing Thanksgiving with Black Friday. But there’s a difference and it’s a big one. Buying more stuff isn’t the secret to a happy life. Being grateful is the secret to a happy life. So Happy Thanksgiving and, by the way, thank you for reading this column.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.