Editorial: The gift of gratitude
When my boys were younger, if they said to me, ‘Thanks for dinner,’ I would often say: ‘Thank you for saying thank you.’ Which they would find mildly amusing, and reply: ‘Thank you for saying thank you for saying thank you.’ To which I would reply… well, you have to stop somewhere, don’t you.
I know, dad jokes. Except that I completely meant it. Thanking doesn’t come naturally to children; it’s a learned skill. And the set pieces – knowing to say thank you when someone gives you a present – are one thing. But thinking: Even though I eat dinner every day, someone spent time making this for me and I enjoyed it so I’m going to let them know I appreciate it – that shows a young man’s getting somewhere in life.
Research by psychologists suggests that writing and delivering a letter of thanks to someone you haven’t thanked before, once a week for three weeks, leads to a large increase in your own happiness and mental health which lasts for months. Another study found that keeping a daily gratitude journal makes people not only happier but healthier, and they sleep better too.
Regularly expressing gratitude, psychologists tell us, can reduce feelings of envy, resentment and regret, increase self esteem, alleviate depression and stress, make us more resilient and more productive, speed recovery from trauma and help our relationships grow more quickly and last longer. Who would have thought that a little bit of courtesy had superpowers?
Well, St Paul, for one. He told the church in Thessaloniki: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ I remember hearing that in Sunday school and thinking: How super-spiritual do you have to be to say: ‘Thank you God that my best friend is being horrible to me; I’m sure you know what you’re doing.’ It seems Paul understood that when, having acknowledged our problems, we step away from them and focus with gratitude on our blessings, it can transform the way we see our lives. And therefore the way we feel about them, and the way we live them.
If only we had an annual day specifically for thanksgiving, like the US does this month. That would do us good. I’d be very grateful. Having imported Halloween, maybe we should have that one next. In the meantime though, every day of gratitude is better than a day without.
Thank you God for the gift of saying thank you. It’s a corker.
This article was published in the November 2019 edition of Reform