Recent television news reports and written commentary have shed light on the amazing benefits of being grateful and sharing appreciation, though I admit my earlier life experiences gave me a far narrower view of expressing thanks. Like so many baby boomers, I was reared in a wonderful environment created by my parents, an environment of always expressing thanks, in handwritten notes, for a person’s kindness and philanthropy. I always had to write a thank-you note, to be reviewed by Mom or Dad, before I could deposit the check or play with a new toy. That requirement, detested initially by an immature child, has only now made incredibly brilliant sense.
This admirable lesson was played forward years later when I was a development professional at McLennan Community College where I oversaw the awarding of college scholarships to incoming and continuing MCC students. The rule was that every scholarship student was required to write an approved thank-you to his or her benefactor before the funds were released to cover tuition and fees. My view: This was the right thing to do.
I recall being dismayed when I first reviewed students’ handwritten notes on the thank-you cards we supplied. I found the majority of students not only had no idea how to write a proper thank-you but also had no idea on what part of the thank-you card they were even to express their thoughts. It was obvious these modern-day students, through no fault of their own, had never had to write a thank-you note. A process to teach these students how to say thank you was quickly initiated. That was the end of my thought process for expressing thanks.
But there’s much more to the quality of being grateful than just writing a note of thanks. The recurring feeling of being grateful can lead a growing child to eventually become a philanthropic adult. In other words, gratefulness and giving are deeply interwoven.
Many Internet articles explain the amazing benefits of being grateful. For instance, in the blog article “31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life,” some 41 pages of detailed references, extensive graphs and illustrations demonstrate how living a life of gratitude can bolster a person’s happiness in the realms of emotional, social and physical health as well as personality development and accomplishing career goals. Gratefulness can accent one’s kindness and ability to have deeper friendships (and more of them). It can improve one’s marriage and self-esteem, make one more resilient and relaxed, give one more control over one’s actions and increase one’s productivity.
Particularly sobering: If genuine gratefulness in a child is not encouraged, growing up could leave that child less successful in some or all of the above-cited areas of life. For any well-intentioned parent who already might have misgivings over how his or her child has matured, this knowledge can only add to the guilt.
Above and beyond the benefits of merely being grateful is the correlation to being philanthropic in service and action. Research shows if a person is reared as a thankful individual, and thereby is more self-assured and happy, he or she tends to be more giving throughout life. Logically, then, the more notes of thanks one writes as a youth, the better chance he or she will one day engage in philanthropy.
Giving to others almost always makes one feel better, especially when one is sincerely thanked for philanthropic deeds. That feeling can encourage additional gifts. Entertainer, author and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey is credited with proclaiming: “Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
It stands to reason if one is never happy with what he or she has, chances are slim one will be a thankful or giving individual.
Then again, in some cases, being grateful for what you don’t have can also stimulate happiness. As American humorist Will Rogers once quipped: “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” Even in humor, being thankful may still have benefits.
Ultimately, the onus is on each parent and responsible adult to begin teaching children at very young ages to show and expect gratefulness for blessings big and small. Thankfulness is an acquired trait, not an inherent one. And this expression of thanks must surface on a daily basis, not just during the holiday season. The benefits are huge when thankfulness is a part of one’s very being. But the benefits to others and, indeed, the entire community are much greater. Being grateful and developing the related tendency to give to others just might combat the lack of respect, civility and selfishness we see so often today.