A thoughtful online post entitled Always Read the Acknowledgements Page by Grace Bialecki recently caught my eye. Bialecki, like me, is a fan of the acknowledgements authors often include in their works. I read them to understand the writer’s “artistic family tree.” She reads them for that reason and to gain information about networks and contacts. But Bialecki also suggests that we can learn language that gifted writers use to thank others, to the benefit of our own gratitude practice.
Acknowledgements are one form of saying thanks, yet not every author includes them. A spirit of thankfulness is recognition that no one creates or acts in a void. It also contributes to our personal well-being. Yet many have dropped the simple practice of saying thanks. Some may have trouble finding the right words. For others, it simply never rises to a level of importance in their busy lives.
Max De Pree — the long-time CEO of the design pacesetter Herman Miller — wrote that, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
Let’s set aside reality and servanthood for the moment and focus on saying thanks.
The kindnesses that often accompany expressions of thankfulness have deepened my appreciation for the power of this simple gesture. And their potency took on even greater significance for many of us during the isolation of the pandemic.
If you feel the need to hone your skills at saying thank you, here are four tips I’ve used to build my own radically grateful practice of thankfulness.
First, be intentional.
Richard Rohr suggests an attitude of gratitude is necessary to be thankful in difficult times, a deliberate choice of love over fear, a desire to be positive instead of negative. If we are not “radically grateful” every day, resentment can take over. Fighting the power to see the worst in the world takes constant effort.
Gratitude comes when we are fully aware, writes David Steindl-Rast. We see something that connects us to things beyond ourselves and to a sense of belonging. That, in turns, leads us to think in terms of giver, gift, and receiver.
Gratefulness turns into thankfulness … Gratefulness is full awareness; thankfulness is thoughtfulness.
Second, study the language of great writers.
As Bialecki writes, “The language authors use to thank their friends and family is inspiration for both thank-you cards and daily life.” Consider, for example, Major Jackson’s poetry collection Hoops:
Jackson’s acknowledgment comes just after the table of contents. This is a sign that his appreciation is front and center, even before he writes, “A traditional bow is owed to many friends and colleagues without whose penetrating comments, critical conversations, and lasting encouragement I would have remained enthusiastically in awe yet speechless. They include…”
“Jackson’s poetic version of an Oscar speech,” she adds, “is a wonderful example of how words can express thanks.”
Third, learn from mentors.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties and worked directly with Richard Moe, the President of the National Trust, that I came to focus on both the language and deep impact of saying thanks.
Dick writes with a sincerity and depth that conveys appreciation for the work of others. As I began drafting reports for our office, I studied his thank you notes — and Dick wrote a lot of thank you notes — to pick up the rhythm of the sentences, favorite words, and the values that served as a foundation for his work. At various points along the way I adapted pieces of his voice for my own.
Finally, just do it.
My grandmother believed in saying “please” and “thank you.” She taught my father to write thank you notes and he followed her advice until he died at age 90. My parents taught their children the same lessons. I’ve always written thank you notes and believe anyone can take up the practice.
No matter where you are in life, you can start your personal “radically grateful” practice today. Write someone a thank you note.
You’ll both feel better for it.
More to come…
Image by Marcel Elia from Pixabay
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