I had a completely different article nearly ready to go, and then… I got distracted by the call of pie dough.
Of course, you realize it’s nearly Thanksgiving here in the US. And so, our minds turn to feasts, and for me, baking, unexpected fruit combinations, and unusual ways to package root vegetables and autumn apples in flaky pastry.
But, of course, Thanksgiving is really about gratitude.
While I’ve never been a crusader for gratitude journals, many of my clients use them. I have tried it myself and enjoyed the exercise. But it never stuck as a long-term habit. I think that’s because keeping a gratitude journal has never felt as powerful to me as actively expressing my gratitude.
Heidegger famously said, Language is the house of being. That proposition is at the heart of much of my work–and how I try to conduct my own life.
We occupy a universe that is conjured in our speaking.
I was pondering this in the juxtaposition of thinking about giving thanks –and the background hum of constant news of wars abroad –and in some ways, wars at home. Which led me to a question.
What experience would we have in a world built using the language of gratitude and appreciation?
The Language of Appreciation
Would saying thank you—deliberately, descriptively, intimately, publicly—conjure a different ontological universe? That is something that each and everyone of us can find out by trying it.
Multiple studies show that both when we give and receive thanks, our brains respond in positive and lasting ways. A 2014 study observed participants in an fMRI while they simply thanked a close friend for something. They saw subjects’ brain images light up with activity in those areas associated with personal satisfaction and wellbeing.
Plus, the effect is largely bidirectional. Multiple studies have shown that both expressing gratitude and receiving it create a variety of positive emotional experiences—and can even launch a virtuous cycle of helpfulness.
Don’t Just Think, Speak!
And, these effect are all stronger when they are attached to communication. Letter writing, verbal thank you’s, public email acknowledgements—they all make us happier for longer than simply reflecting on what we are thankful for.
This is definitely borne out by my own experience. Most of the moments in my life where I felt something like a transcendental sense of peace and wellbeing have occurred as I expressed deep appreciation and gratitude.
It didn’t matter whether it was spoken to a friend, or in a thank you note, to a group who had just generously allowed me to coach or train them, to an audience who listened to me, or my neighbor who helped me with a task. When I express my deep appreciation, I experience a kind of grace; and I hope that the recipients of my appreciation do so to an even greater extent.
The act of thanking—out loud or in writing—is a deeply human act. You can move yourself—inspire your deepest emotional core—by saying thank you.
On Thanksgiving, some people do the exercise of having everyone say what they are grateful for before eating.
I am going to suggest something more deliberate. Take time over the next week to truly thank people in your life and work for what they provide and who they are. And thank them boldly —with real intentionality.
Express radical appreciation!
The kind of thank you I mean is one in which you describe to that person the way that they contribute to you.
- Tell them how they make you laugh, or smile, or aspire to be better, stronger, smarter, or kinder.
- Describe their special attribute that distinguishes them in your experience.
- And share the the nature of the hole that would exist in your life, organization or family without them.
You can do this with anyone in your life: Your gym buddy, mailman, house cleaner, boss, mom, the neighbor who pulls your trash can up from the curb, the cashier at the grocery store who always remembers you, the foam artist barista, or your most disagreeable team member who pushes everyone to be better.
Tell them what their contribution means to you. Describe the way that you are affected by them and the value you get from knowing them. And then, say Thank You.
I am moved simply by imagining you thanking someone unexpectedly. Giving them the cherished gift of your appreciation and gratitude.
Let yourself be moved by your own generosity and love.
For myself, I am doing this experiment right along with you—starting with you.
When I started this newsletter 9 years ago, I had a handful of people who read it. Former clients, friends from my Rotary club, those who had read my book and followed me on social media.
It has grown to a group of many thousands, but I continue to feel surprise and deep gratitude when I read the reports of how many people have opened the email and visited the links within it.
Despite our very outspoken world, it remains a rare honor to have people interested in what any of us have to say. And I don’t take that for granted. That you read my work means everything to me –and that goes double for those of you who share my essays with your friends. Thank you for your generosity.
Honestly, you hold my feet to the fire as readers. Your high standards and feedback push me to critically appraise my own beliefs about organizations, strategy, leadership and being, and to refine, edit and craft every essay as though it were the only thing I might ever say. Thank you so much for your continuing readership.
Give Yourself A Gift
Please take this opportunity to express your appreciation to your people. The people who are, ultimately, the source of your moment-by-moment experience of life.
In big and small ways, our lives are nothing more than a series of collisions with other people that coalesce into stories and memories. And so, it is through those other people that we create meaning, purpose, challenges, victories, family and community.
Could anything be more worthy of our gratitude?
Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!