The Gratitude Time of Year

photoMy wife is one of the most thoughtful and grateful people I know. It tends to come out most during the holidays. I am absolutely astonished every year with the amount of gift-giving, card-writing and thank you-saying that goes on, in many cases to people I didn’t even know existed or where even somehow part of our lives.

I can tell you that if you have anything to do with our lives or somehow our kids lives, you are getting a card, or a gift, some prayers in some cases, and you’re in her thoughts. Even the assistant’s in the teachers lounge (a job I was not aware even existed) are getting a little something. It’s like watching the U.S. Postal Service do the evening sort. But, as Trista Sutter says in her book, Happily Ever After: The Life-changing Power of a Grateful Heart everyone deserves admiration and validation (Sutter 31). When we tell someone else thank you, we’re expressing gratitude and we are appreciating them and the significance they have in the world.

But gratitude can be a funny thing. When people are constantly thanking you for every little thing it becomes a little disingenuous and watered down.

“Authentic appreciation is one thing. Obligatory appreciation is another” (Sutter 33).

Thank You Notes

One of my favorite bits on Jimmy Fallon is when he writes thank you notes. I can’t really stay up late enough to watch him anymore so I can’t wait until he gets to The Tonight Show. Anyway, something that seems to be a lost art is the writing of actual thank you notes. I am not talking about a quick email or text but an actual honest to God snail mailed thank you note.

When everyone is emailing, texting and tweeting it is truly extraordinary for someone to sit down for 10 minutes and jot out a well thought expression of thanks, then find an envelope, and pay whatever a stamp costs nowadays (you can tell who mails stuff around here) and then send it. I told my students when they are on the job hunt that everyone should get a hand written thank you note. The main reason is to show gratitude, but it also helps you stand out because thank you notes are so rare. I recently received two handwritten thank you notes, one from a non-traditional student who is about my age (i.e. old), thanking me for helping advise him about what classes to take. The other was from a 17-year-old high school senior girl who said the same thing. There’s an example of one person who was brought up right, and one who is being brought up right. I kept both cards and those are two students, of our 500+ in the department, than I will keep track of in the coming years.

When I would interview people for jobs, I would actually keep the thank you notes from the people who did not get hired. Sometimes I could give them another lead to another job, and I certainly always remember them when we had our next job opening and would sometimes reach out personally and invite them to apply again. It was a pretty stand up thing for them to still send a card when they didn’t get the job.

Put Your Own Mask On First

Something else to keep in mind is that we all have an appreciation take that needs filling (Sutter 42), and sometimes we have to self-serve. Trista quotes American Western author Louis L’Amour who once said that “I need nobody to make me somebody.” (Sutter 42). Frankly, I wish I had that level of confidence and that low of a need for appreciation and validation from others, but I do not and neither do most of you.

A common analogy about making sure that we take care of ourselves so that we have the ability to take care of others is when the airline safety video tells you to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others (Sutter 41). I have been known to push myself far beyond the point of no return, but this is not healthy and does not allow me to be fully energetic, present and in a somewhat pleasant state of mind. Sutter talks about how she literally will shove her husband Ryan out the door (62) with his snowboard or mountain bike (you can do both in the same day in Colorado by the way). While she misses him and may have to take on extra child care duties, she knows he needs his “me-time,” just as she needs hers.

I have started to take a little bit more time here and there to just relax and recharge. Without feeling guilty when my kids or others need my attention. Dr. Stephen Covey called it habit 7: sharpen the saw. He was fond of saying in his 7 habits training, ‘have you ever been so busy driving but you forgot to get gas?’ Not only would he say this metaphorically but also literally. I know that if I can take a few minutes of personal time to recharge I will be in a much better state of mind 10 or 20 minutes later or sometimes even an hour later to engage with my kids, my spouse, my clients or whoever.

Earlier this year I read the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This is an excellent way to understand both the methods of appreciation that speak to you and that speak to your spouse, your kids and even your friends.

There are plenty of ways to show yourself your own appreciation. This might be a hobby, exercise, meditation, or in some cases just letting yourself watch a few hours of TV without feeling guilty that you’re not doing something more important at the time. For me, my most relaxing time is heading to Barnes & Noble to sit down and read for awhile. Or maybe you could pick up reading and join the nine other people that read this blog on a daily basis.

In order to truly appreciate yourself and those around you you might have to thought toss out some negative thoughts. I mean literally toss them out. In a study conducted at the Ohio State University scientists showed that if you want to free your mind of a negative thought you need to literally get rid of it, (Sutter 50), this means actually writing down the thought crumpling up the paper and throwing it into the trash.

The same experiment also showed that you can magnify your positive thoughts by keeping them with you in your wallet or purse (Sutter 51). I do this in a couple of ways, first when there are emails that I don’t like to read I delete them if I can rather than letting them sit in my inbox festering. Or, if I have to deal with them but just not now I move them over to my Omnifocus to do list, which gets them out of my email inbox so I don’t have to sit there and stare at them. Now, to be practical and for CYA purposes, some of these emails I cannot delete for legal reasons. But it does not mean I have to leave them in my inbox.

One way of keeping positive thoughts around that I literally just started was to buy a new wallet. While I have thousands of pictures of my kids, mostly on my iPhone, I wanted an old-school wallet that had a place to keep their pictures so that every time I pulled it out I would have the opportunity to see my family, which is my reminder to not only be grateful for what I have but my motivation for what I do to earn a paycheck.

So your homework today is before you start trying to figure out how to appreciate others and sending the assistant, to the assistant of the assistant of the assistants’ Starbucks’ Barista, take a few minutes and figure out some ways to appreciate your self. Then assist others with their own mask.

Sutter, Trista. Happily Ever After: The Life-changing Power of a Grateful Heart. Boston: Da Capo, MA. Print.

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