Be the change you wish to see in the world...

- Gandhi

Friday, April 12, 2013

What Saying Thank You Taught Me

Last month I posted about a gratitude project I took on for the month: 30 days of saying thank you by sending a postcard each day for a month to someone different.  (If you missed it, you can read the post here.)  It was a fulfilling project in more ways than one.  Here's what I learned:

There is nothing too small for a thank you: I found an abundance of people to thank the first few days of this project.  At first, I was flooded with obvious recipients who had helped me with something, or had done me a favor.  But, as I delved deeper into the month, I had to look beyond the obvious things that you thank people for, and think about other things for which I was grateful - intangibles, like sentiments I received or feelings I was filled with because of a friendship or a conversation.  I began thanking for those small things in life, which are of course, the big things that matter.

Saying thank you can be more about the receiver than giver: I embarked on this project as way to experience more joy in my life.  By showing gratitude daily, I hoped to form a habit that stuck with me far beyond the 30 days (and it has).  I have known for some time that it feels far greater to give than receive, but I was unprepared for the response I received from some of my thank you postcards.  My thank you struck some deep emotional chords, and with some people, landed in their mailbox at a time when they needed it most (unbeknown to me).  I was bringing joy to them as much as they were bringing it to me by just saying "thanks."  I loved the phone calls, emails and in-person hugs that my cards generated.  Joy in the flesh!

It's never too late to say thank you: I worried at first that some of my thank you's were tardy.  Maybe the sentiment would be forgotten since it was long overdue.  From my experience, there is no expiration date on a thank you, and as it turns out, it was much appreciated and the gesture far outweighed any consciousness about the timing of it.

Gratitude is habit forming: Once I got going, sending my daily postcards took a life of their own.  The process became a daily ritual for me - take the card out of the box, place the pen on the paper and write.  I thought deeply about what I wanted to thank for.  (I got better at writing my thank you's with each day).  I tried to go beyond the obvious, but thank for something the recipient might not know they had done for me...changed in me.

What I know for sure after this experience is that I must be conscious daily of the abundance in my life. I must express gratitude routinely and robustly to fully appreciate all of the riches right in front of me.  There was little room for pessimism and complaints when I focused on all I had to be thankful for, and because I was actively thinking of people to thank, I was constantly churning my mental Rolodex for things I was thankful for.  This is a great exercise that I plan to continue on a weekly basis...definitely a must in the good life "tool box."