The upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving offers a unique opportunity to cultivate an attitude of gratitude not only one day of the year, but all the time. It speaks to the core of a spiritually meaningful and blessed life. Human nature is to acknowledge an act of generosity immediately after we receive the benefit. Right away, we say “Thank You.” But sometimes we don’t recognize that generosity until years later.
There is not a single person here who is not the beneficiary of thousands of acts of generosity. Starting with our parents, siblings, co-workers, children, a spouse, friends, a stranger…do we remember their deeds? Do we express appreciation or do we forget? Warren Buffett once said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Who planted your tree?
No two words can more deeply impact our relationship with God and our family, community and friends than saying a genuine Thank You. When we are sincere, specific and let people know how much their kindness means to us, it can have a profound impact. In fact, never forgetting an act of kindness is the essence of leading a spiritually attuned life, and the glue that connects us to our loved ones and to God. Over time, if we express the gratitude and stop taking people for granted, it will not only impact our relationships but fundamentally change we who we are, and help us become our best selves.
We conclude with a story from the book A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik.
One recent December, at age 53, Kralik found his life at a terrible, frightening low. His small law firm was failing…he was struggling through a painful second divorce…he had grown distant from his two older children and was afraid he might lose contact with his young daughter…he was living in a tiny apartment where he froze in the winter and baked in the summer…he was 40 pounds overweight…his girlfriend had just broken up with him…and overall, his dearest life dreams—including hopes of upholding idealistic legal principles and of becoming a judge—seemed to have slipped beyond his reach.
Then, during a desperate walk in the hills on New Year’s Day, John was struck by the belief that his life might become at least tolerable if, instead of focusing on what he didn’t have, he could find some way to be grateful for what he had. Inspired by a beautiful, simple note his ex-girlfriend had sent to thank him for his Christmas gift, John imagined that he might find a way to feel grateful by writing thank-you notes. To keep himself going, he set himself a goal—come what may—of writing 365 thank-you notes in the coming year.
One by one, day after day, he began to handwrite thank you’s for gifts or kindnesses he’d received from loved ones and coworkers, from past business associates and current foes, from college friends, doctors, store clerks, handymen, neighbors, and anyone, really—absolutely anyone—who’d done him a good turn, however large or small. Immediately after he’d sent his very first notes, significant and surprising benefits began to come John’s way—from financial gain to true friendship…from weight loss to inner peace. While John wrote his notes, the economy collapsed, the bank across the street from his office failed, but thank-you note by thank-you note, John’s whole life turned around.
Ironically, we know how it feels when we do not receive recognition. We’ve all had the unfortunate experience of doing something for someone and never hearing a simple “thank you” in return. It makes us feel sad, perhaps a little hurt or even a little angry, when we have really gone out of our way to help someone. We may think, “How dare he not appreciate what I did for him!”
Let this season awaken you to the power of gratitude. There are so many people to whom each of us owes thanks for where we are today. Rather than forget their kindnesses, we need to remember. Every day is a gift, and an opportunity to say Thank You.
Click here to purchase Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s book, What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?