Friday, November 20, 2009

Superpowers 101: Saying Thank You

Thank you.  An expression of gratitude. Simple, clean, direct. We learn it as children. We often say it without thinking about it. When someone holds a door for us or gives us a compliment we throw out a "thanks" automatically. In many ways, "Thank you" is one of the most common phrases in the English language. So, why does it feel so good to hear it? And why do we feel hurt when we don't?

"Thank you" is acknowledgment. It says "I know you did something for me." Whether the thank you is sincere or just a token seems to matter less than the acknowledgment itself. I have learned this lesson the hard way.

When my oldest children were young, my mother-in-law came to visit. After she had been there for several days, she told me that I should make the children say thank you to me. I was surprised and a little put off by this. My children were still very young, my oldest was almost 3. It wasn't that they couldn't say it yet. I just didn't think it was necessary for them to tell me thank you, especially for something as routine as feeding them lunch or getting them dressed.

Still, she insisted that they say "thank you" all day long. It wasn't that I minded, I just found it kind of silly. The children did establish a certain habit of this, although I didn't really enforce it. Over the next few years I came to regret that attitude and to see the wisdom of her words.

As my children got older, they became more demanding. They complained about what I made for dinner or the flavor of the Kool-aid. They criticized what clothes I picked out for them and which movie was on TV. "Why did you buy that toothpaste?" "That's not the way I wanted my hair." It seemed they were never satisfied. I was beside myself with frustration and irritation. My husband joined in my disappointment. It has taken us years to try and mold them into grateful, thoughtful people. Honestly, it is still a work in progress.

The benefit of this is that I have learned my lesson. My 2 younger children are only 3 and 17 months old but they both say "thank you" to me often. In fact, "Thank you" was the first thing my 3 year old learned to say.

Does it make a difference? You bet it does! Every time he sees me folding his favorite shirt he hugs me and says "You cleaned it! Thank you. Mommy!" He has followed the lead of his older siblings and says "thank you" for every bite of food I give him. If he doesn't, I notice and remind him. Somehow, I still struggle with making the older kids do this. We have already established the pattern.

The difference is in how I feel about doing things for them. I am much more eager to spoil my little ones because I know they will respond with a grateful attitude. I find my self thinking "Why should I?" when one of my less grateful children asks for something...again...for the tenth time. I know that it will not satisfy them, nor will they appreciate whatever effort I make for them.

This might seem immature. Maybe. But I have learned another lesson during this progress. Sometimes my kids have that same attitude. In fact, my oldest son has told me more than once that he doesn't like to clean his room because "It won't make you happy." I thought about this. He was right. I make demands on my kids all the time. In the past, I rarely showed appreciation for their efforts. They, in turn, didn't want to do what I asked them.

I have tried to correct this. When they do what they are told, or do what they should without being told, I make a point to say "Thank you". They eat it up! They are suddenly eager to do more.

I have never been a fan of the overly enthusiastic praise some parents give their children. "Oh my gosh! You did SUCH an AWESOME JOB! You are the GREATEST bed maker EVER!!!!" That is insincere to me and, frankly, unnecessary. My kids are pleased with a simple but sincere "Thank you for making your bed. I really appreciate it."

I know, there are moments when "Thank you" seems inadequate. Sometimes I wish there was another word or phrase we could use when we are REALLY thankful or when someone does something REALLY wonderful. There isn't. We are stuck with "Thank you". Does that make it any less meaningful? Should we say it less? Save it for the times when we are REALLY thankful?

Sometimes we might not feel thankful. We don't want to say "thank you" for some reason. It has been my experience that during those times we should say it the most. There is a quote that says your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions and your actions become your destiny. I think that can work in reverse. Our actions can change our words and thoughts. We can make ourselves more thankful by "going through the motions" when we are not really feeling that way.

I can safely say that we can all be more thankful. Some days I am in awe of the blessings I have, the comforts I enjoy, the amazing abundance I take for granted. I know I fall far short of being adequately thankful for all that I have. The hymn "Count Your Blessings" comes to mind. "Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bare? Count your many blessings; every doubt will fly, and you will be singing as the days go by." Such a simple thing to do and yet so hard.

In our culture we call "Please" the "magic word", I suppose because that is the word you use to get what you want. In reality, "Thank you" has more "magic". It makes kids do more work. It makes adults smile. It uplifts our spirits and gladdens our hearts. It helps us see the wonder and abundance around us. It is a phrase that acknowledges service. It represents actions that are often born of the simplest and greatest of all virtues: Charity. What greater proof can there be of our love for our Heavenly Father and his children than the exchange of such a phrase?

During this Thanksgiving season, may we all carry the spirit of thanks within our hearts. May we all be more thankful throughout the year and throughout our lives. And may I say to you all; Thank you for all you do!

1 comment:

toby and amy said...

I love it! Thank you really is the magic phrase! When we can't figure out why Thomas is being so resistant and whiney we remember that we demand things from him and don't praise him enough and it works every time! Why can't we just remember that and do it all the time?