We all know that being grateful is a crucial character trait; it’s the foundation of many of our other qualities and actions. We all know that we need to express gratitude to anyone who has given to us – our colleagues, our friends, our parents and the Almighty Himself. What we frequently don’t know is how to show our appreciation, the right words or appropriate actions. Too many of us are like our small children who, when forced to say thank you to an adult, mutter it under their breath in grudging or barely audible tones. Rarely do we give wholehearted thanks.
I confess to being a lot like those children, perhaps embarrassed to be the recipient of someone else’s kindness and, although certainly not begrudging it, barely squeaking out a soft word of thanks. Until a friend of mine taught me differently. She showed me many ways to express my appreciation. She modeled more effective ways to say thanks and she broadened my abilities.
Firstly, your thank you should be specific. “Thanks for dinner” is a good starting place. “Thanks for a delicious dinner” is better. “Thanks for going to so much trouble to make dinner for me” is better yet. And “Thanks for such a gourmet dinner. The chicken was so moist. Can I get the recipe? I’ve never enjoyed squash so much. The rice was prepared to perfection and that chocolate dessert was exquisite. I really enjoyed myself. Thanks for including me” may be best of all! The more detailed, the better.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that everyone likes to be thanked, even paid professionals. They take pride in their work and they are still doing us a kindness, whether they get financial remuneration or not. Take the time to tell the plumber, the caterer, your dentist (there’s a challenging one!), your housekeeper how much you appreciate the effort they made and the work they did. You can also thank them for each step along the way, not just the overall job.
Perhaps the paid professionals we need to thank most of all and who are frequently the recipients of our complaints and rarely our gratitude are our children’s teachers. They deserve our respect and appreciation for the hours and effort they put in trying to educate our children, really doing some parts of our job for us. My abovementioned friend was my role model here as well. Her children were a little older than mine and I watched her write thank you notes at the end of the year to all of their teachers. I don’t think most teachers need another box of candy but a note expressing gratitude means a lot. Being specific makes a difference here as well. “You opened my daughter up to the world of reading; I can’t thank you enough.” “You made history come alive for my son; I am really grateful.” “You helped her over her fear of math and I appreciate how patient you were about it.” These are the kinds of notes that teachers save long after “The world’s best teacher” mug has been broken.
And along the same lines, we frequently forget to thank the people who mean the most to us – our close friends and family – who are always doing kindness for us and which we frequently take for granted. In this world of texts and emails, written notes still make a difference. It’s still nice to receive a written thank you for a dinner served, an event hosted, a special effort made. When my friend’s youngest daughter got married a few years ago, we were among the hosts for sheva brachos for the young couple. The thank you note I received took my breath away. It was an ode to friendship and a lesson in appreciation. I don’t want to reveal something too personal but the gist covered love, years of friendship, gourmet appetizers and fancy desserts! I hope to follow her example in this area as well.
And lastly, let’s address our most significant relationships where gratitude cannot be expressed often enough –our spouses and our Creator. With our spouse, not only do we often take their kindness for granted but we may just assume they are doing their job. I believe I can safely promise you a better marriage if you say thank you – whether you are feeling appreciative or not, whether you think it’s your due or not, whether you think it’s a big deal or not. “Thanks for making dinner when you had such a long day.” “Thanks for stopping at the dry cleaners for me even though it was out of your way.” “Thanks for checking the locks.” “Thanks for getting up with the baby.” “Thanks for marrying me!!” The list is endless and we should never stop.
So too with the Almighty. We say the morning blessings to help focus our gratitude. We begin the day with an appreciation of the gift of life and move on to specific aspects of that gift. It is true in formal prayer and it should be true when we use our own words as well. Like our relationships with educators, we frequently share out complaints and frustrations with the Almighty and not our gratitude. “Thanks for such beautiful day.” “Thanks for the ability to think, to learn and to grow.” “Thanks for making me a part of the Jewish people.” “Thanks for my family.” “Thanks for giving me a relationship with You.”
Small children say a limited thank you in small meek voices. They are self-centered and haven’t learned about building relationships with others. Mature adults should say it in deep, mellifluous tones – with a richness of nuance and expression. We should say it with feeling.