The ritual of expressing gratitude is good for you.
02 December 2019
Being married to an American, I have got used to celebrating Thanksgiving each year, on the fourth Thursday of November. Its origins go back to America's founding fathers being thankful for the harvest, and for most Americans it's a more important family occasion than Christmas.
One of the traditions of Thanksgiving is to take it in turns before the meal to express thanks for something in your life. It's the sort of thing that doesn't come easily to reserved English people, but I've grown to like doing it, because expressing gratitude in front of others reminds you of what is important, and (despite the momentary embarrassment) makes you feel good.
This year, our American friend Martha and her family were with us for Thanksgiving. She had done some planning, and instead of us going around the table picking anything at all to be thankful for ('my friends', 'my iPhone' etc) she had set up four rounds, each with a different theme. We each had to express our thanks for:
- Something physical in our life
- An event that happened to us this year
- A place that is important to us
- A person we know who is not in this room and who is not family.
That last one was interesting, because it removed the easy options ('my wife' 'my dad' and so on). Each of us picked somebody. Phew, it was over.
And then came the kicker that none of us expected.
Martha announced she had a challenge. "I now want all of you, sometime in the next day, to get in touch with the person you were thankful for, and tell them what you said."
I swallowed hard. I had picked out a former boss of mine, Dennis, who has been an incredible mentor and sounding board for me for many years.
Saying something you like about somebody when they aren't there is one thing, but telling them directly is very different. I found myself unexpectedly with a lump in my throat just at the thought of being asked to do this.
I felt obliged to follow through, and so today I sent Dennis an email telling him what I had said. He replied within an hour to say how lovely it had been to receive my message. And it made me feel good, in a deep down, glowing sort of way.