I have been thinking about the word “gratitude” lately. I felt the absence of gratitude when someone recently ignored what I thought was my “over and beyond efforts” on his behalf. I felt the presence of gratitude when someone recently wrote me a note of thanks for what I thought, on my part, was a very ordinary gesture of help on a routine day. So, what is it about a simple thank you in any language that can, by its absence, drain energy out of your life and when used with intention, create a powerful feeling of optimism and well-being in people?
Melinda Beck (in her article for the WSJ ‘Thank you. No, Thank You’) cites a body of scientific research that suggests expressing gratitude can and does increase a person’s overall physical and psychological well-being. Few will disagree with this because, as humans, we have been socialized to mind our manners when around people. Are you wondering what my point is? I am getting to it.
I believe giving and receiving thanks is becoming a mundane, routine activity, something people do because it is expected by social norms or it might make them stand-out as a job seeker or because it is a reflexive habit. Dr. Emmons, who has conducted considerable research on this topic, says:
As simple as it sounds, gratitude is actually a demanding, complex emotion that requires self-reflection, the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and the humility to realize one’s own limitations.
I want to have a conversation around cultivating a purposeful, intentional and joyful mindfulness around giving and receiving thanks, simply because there is universal grace in doing so and because I strongly believe that our successes (and failures) come within the context of our relationships. So, here are a few ideas that I’d like to share and invite your comments on:
Don’t wait for the perfect moment to say thanks:
Each day there is an opportunity to speak from the heart. Keep it simple. Share a talent, quote, an article or a joke – what matters is that you are actively surrounding your intended person with abundant joy, blessings and laughter. You are giving that person an opportunity to pause in a mind-numbing routinized day to reflect, read and possibly act on what you share with them. Think of it as a random act of kindness. All this is done without actually using the words, “thank-you.” When you share a slice of your life or a moment, you send a powerful message: “I am thinking about you. You matter to me. I hope this brings a smile to your heart today.”
Don’t be generic with your praise, be specific:
Fulsome praise using superlatives – wonderful, great job, cool – is just that-fulsome praise with little meaning. How about being other-focused by sharing how what the person did for you made your work shine or uplifted your spirits or helped you clear cobwebs in your thinking? Allow the person to truly understand and glimpse into how their particular gift in that moment of time turned something around for you. Make that moment of sunshine count so that on a dreary day, your recipient can lean on your expression of gratitude. Much more powerful than a generic thank you.
Don’t treat this as something on your to-do list:
Think about the whole person, their values and interests so that it is clear that your gratitude comes from a place of authenticity. Put some thought into your words, actions or gifts as you reflect on how someone has enriched your life. It isn’t that hard. If it helps, keep notes or reminders about what people in your circle have mentioned in casual conversations or have discussed in team meetings. Without being asked, offer to generously share your talents and gifts. Consider inviting someone you don’t particularly like to work with you. It is a way to express gratitude for a personal and professional growth opportunity that otherwise might not come your way.
So, before I ask you to reach out to someone today in gratitude and thanks, here are a few additional tips to consider:
- If you are in transition, take a thorough position analysis into your interview to return their courtesy and show how much thought you have put into your preparation. Create a 30-60-90 day plan for success and send it as a thank you letter.
- With colleagues and your network, share generously — ideas, materials and articles. Create a system to nourish your network, both through LinkedIn and in-person. Many people balk at the idea of networking, especially when in transition. Make this easy by taking care of your relationships prior to a transition.
- Be alert to the trends, insights and issues in your field. Practice curiosity and enjoy the randomness of conversations because ideas lurk everywhere.
I thank you for reading and invite your comments. Who will you thank today?