Once, when I worked at quite possibly my least favorite institution in the world, the building was flooded, and a box of my personal belongings came up missing. To be honest, I was initially most irritated at losing my French press travel mug. But when I recalled the other contents, I felt completely bummed. Inside were inspiring notes, thank you cards, and similar boosts to my confidence from former co-workers and students, dating all the way back to my teaching stint at a private Christian high school.
It’s not that I need visual reminders of my impact on others’ lives, although it certainly feels good to know I’ve made a positive difference. I don’t need a paper notecard to remind me that someone once expressed gratitude for something small I did. But it sure helps to have those little items to look at on days when it seems like everything’s gloomy, no one is for me, and nothing I’m doing matters at all.
Thankfully I don’t have many days like that now. But I’ve had my fair share. And I’m so grateful for the people who took the time and energy and expense to express their gratitude for me. Whether I helped a student overcome her social anxiety, or aided a student in discovering some unknown academic potential, or sent a sympathy card to someone who was genuinely hurting, or a host of other things, any time I am thanked for my actions, it reinforces those actions. It reminds me that I’m making a difference, that I’m making good choices by investing in the lives of others, that I’m doing the right thing by listening to that Still Small Voice when I hear, “call her” or “give her $20.”
I recently read a great blog post, http://zenhabits.net/why-living-a-life-of-gratitude-can-make-you-happy/, which led me to ponder how many times I really allow my feelings of gratitude to evolve into actions. When I pray, and I thank God for someone or something, do I contact that person and tell him I’m grateful for him? Or is the prayer the end of the line? It doesn’t take much more effort to pick up the phone, send an email, write a thank you note, or do a good deed to express gratitude. So why don’t I? The excuses are plentiful. It’s embarrassing. It’s humbling. I don’t have time. I forgot.
But if I just take the action, I might provide someone with an encouraging word she needed more than I’ll ever know or a note that someday will really mean something to her. And I don’t just have to give back to the giver. I’ve had many people help me out financially, academically, spiritually, and emotionally. I can express my gratitude by helping someone else out, paying it forward, and continuing a lovely legacy of gratitude.
This month, in light of Thanksgiving, I’m going to focus on showing and telling and spreading gratitude around me. I won’t just feel it; I’ll say it, and I’ll do it.