Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

William Arthur Ward

I notice those people who know how to express gratitude.

I notice those who do NOT know how to express gratitude.

I wonder about the “how and why” that exists to create those two types of people.  The first group, I fully understand.  The second group, I do not fully understand.

The how

I think back about how I learned to express gratitude.  It started at an early age, being raised by a single mom.  We were very dependent on others around us to help us get through life.  Life was not always easy.  I am grateful for many characteristics of my mom.  She modeled the “gratitude factor” through her verbal words AND her written words.

I remember the stack of thank you cards in the top drawer of an old wooden desk.  If someone helped us in any way, I saw my mom take time out in the evenings to write out a few words on a not-very-fancy thank you card.  She ceremoniously kissed the card as a sign of thankfulness as she sealed it and applied the stamp.

She sent out at least 5 of these cards each week on behalf of our family and her gratefulness.  It was her stand out factor.

To this day, I still marvel at how resourceful she was to raise three kids on a very meager income, working 2-3 jobs and receiving no child support.  Her investment in those cards (time) and stamps (money) truly helped our family survive in so many ways.

As soon as I could write, she encouraged me to send thank you notes too.  And so, I did — to the aunts, uncles, grandmothers who sent us gifts for birthdays and Christmas.  My mom’s comment was, “They took the time to remember you for this occasion, the least you can do is to remember them by sending your appreciation.”  This habit was ingrained in me.  Those thank you notes needed to be sent within a day or two of the gift.

I have continued to send out thank you notes.  Family, friends and co-workers know that this is what I do.  Expressing my gratitude is who I am.  It is one of my stand out factors.

Recently, I received an email from a lady, who was the wife of a co-worker who passed away from cancer.  She was going through his papers and found several of my thank you notes I had sent more than 30 years ago.  I was touched that he had saved them.  Obviously, those words on the paper meant something to him.  I was even more touched that she took the time to express her appreciation for my appreciation of her wonderful husband, my co-worker.  The power of gratitude lives on.

As soon as my kids could write, I encouraged them to send thank you notes for the gifts and kindness that others have provided them.  So, the tradition of sending thank you notes in our family lives on.  I sincerely hope that they will pass this tradition on to their children.

Additionally, I have suggested to them that an expression of gratitude can also apply when someone does something nice for you.  A thank you note can be sent for acts of kindness, not just gifts.  When someone goes to their mailbox, the thank you note is the first envelope to be opened.

The why

A few years ago, I met a local businesswoman who commented to me that she absolutely did not send out thank you notes and for me “not to expect one from her.”  At first, I was taken aback since sending thank you notes is such a core belief and action for me.  What I realized was two things:

  1. She was setting expectations for me on what to expect if I gave her a gift.  I had given her several.
  2. Her core belief on this subject was not the same as mine.  I needed to accept that.

Until I realized those two factors, I truly thought her belief system was a bit odd.  Why would you NOT express gratitude?  Some people simply do not.  It is not their stand out factor.

To this day, I do not know her why she was adamant about not expressing gratitude.

What I do know is my why.

My why is that I am grateful for the kindness by others done on my behalf – whether it is a gift or an action.  I appreciate it.  I value their time they have expended for me.  You see, I learned at an early age several lessons:

  1. Others DO want to help you. Let them have that opportunity.
  2. There are times when you need the help (action) or you need the gift (money).
  3. It is really hard to do this thing called life alone –without others.
  4. Others will help you more when they know you appreciate what they have done for you.

Yes, I admit I am a “thank you card-ologist,” sending out at least 5-10 cards a week to those I have crossed paths with that week who have done something special for me.  I have boxes and boxes of thank cards in a drawer of an old desk, along with stamps so that I can easily take action to express my gratitude.

Think about your position on expressing gratitude.  Is it just a sometime thing?  What would happen if you were more consistent?  Do you want this to be your stand out factor?  If yes, make it happen.


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash