Thank you, I stumbled over the words in Farsi as my cashier at TJ Maxx painstakingly wrapped picture frames as if they were antique china. Although I could have been annoyed by the delay it added to my day, I was grateful that this man, with a name I couldn’t pronounce, had shared a little corner of the world with me on a Sunday afternoon. There was no way I could jump in an airplane and experience Iraqi soil, but a simple act of gratitude was my ticket to hearing about one man’s journey to Virginia, to a bustling TJ Maxx, on a Sunday.
Practicing Thank You has been something I have been practicing this summer, almost as a game. Whenever I meet someone new during the day, I try to find something I can thank them for—whether I thank the bagger at the end of the checkout line or the TSA Agent checking my ID. Whoever it is, their response surprises me every time—they act stunned, like I was the first person to treat them like a human being that day, and they often thank me right back.
The Art of Gratitude requires more than the robotic expected but polite thank you everyone says when another human being serves them. No, this is the art of an intentional “thank you.” It takes time. It requires stopping in the middle of a shopping trip, flight, workday, or coffee run to see another person and treat them with honor, kindness, and grace. They are worth a 30-second thank you.
Gratitude often bubbles out in more words than just thank you. Like the Iraqi cashier from TJ Maxx whose name I still cannot pronounce, part of the art of gratitude is saying thank you in a person’s own language. While it does not necessarily mean learning how to say thank you in Farsi, it could mean learning to say a specific thank you to the Target Guy, or the Bank Teller, or the Dentist’s Assistant. These are human beings made in the image of God with a life as foreign as Iraqi soil, and they could become friends with a quick “thank you” that makes them part of your day, part of your story. A quick wink and wave at a two-year-old might do the trick. Or a smile. Or a hand-shake and a “God bless.” Whatever words I used, in practicing the art of gratitude I have discovered a wealth of stories all around me that I had never considered before.
This summer, I have found that the art of gratitude is its own reward. A thank you has come back to me and blessed my day more than I ever intended to bless theirs.
For those days that I don’t feel like being grateful, there is a simple reminder on my desk in my office. A 4×4 inch sign reads: “There is always something to be thankful for.” When I don’t feel like being grateful, there is always something I can thank God for or someone I can thank for helping me today.
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I’m glad you’ve been thanking people. Funny, I’ve been doing it since I could form the words & understand what they mean. I don’t understand why we need, as adults, to be taught to thank people. Even when angr, upset, distracted or any other of a hundred feelings, a thank you is the least we can/should do for a person who performs a service for us. I’m not meaning to be a smarty, I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to be polite.
Gratitude is one of the classic Virtues we get from the Ancient Greeks, part of Virtue Ethics. It’s one of my favorites, along with courage, patience, perseverance, etc. We can cultivate ethical values in and of themselves, as in Paul Woodruff’s wonderful “Reverence, a Virtue” which I value so much.
I worked as a hospice chaplain. Every morning is an opportunity for gratitude. It’s a privilege not given to all of us. And one morning we will not wake up, so value and have gratitude for each day. And respect, respecting the basic dignity and worth of each person we meet.