On this day, 49 years ago, my parents brought me into this world and began the demanding task of nurturing me through childhood and adolescence until I was ready to stand on my own two feet. As I was growing up, although I didn’t take them and their love for granted, I certainly didn’t thank them enough for their unstinting, unselfish, commitment to me. Like most adults, I regret such youthful shortcomings. That’s why many years ago, I pledged that for the rest of my life I would regularly let them know how incalculably grateful I am for their loving, unflagging dedication, and hard work for which they wanted nothing in return, but my health and happiness. I’ve learnt many things since I became an adult, but one in particular stands out: gratitude costs nothing, yet it’s one of the most valuable gifts we humans can give each other. And it’s never too late to start giving.
Some words have the power to soften the hardest of hearts. It’s not surprising that they’re widely used. What is surprising is that they’re mostly used in ways that diminish their power. The word “thanks,” for example, is mostly delivered flippantly and with such little thought that by the time it’s received, it’s lost all of its magic. We mumble it to the waiter who brings us our coffee, or unthinkingly type it at the start of email replies. Yet, if we used it in a way that delivered all its potential, lives would be transformed.
“Sorry” is another magical word that is used frivolously – often, as an insincere ruse to get us off the hook. When used sincerely, those words convey the most powerful human feelings that can turn ordinary communications into empowering opportunities for the giver and receiver. The right words used honestly – especially ones that express appreciation of others – bring us emotionally closer and make the world a better place for us all; the right words may even help us live longer.
In one of the longest running socio-economic studies ever undertaken in the US – the Grant Study – researchers monitored the lives of 268 Harvard University students since 1938. The researchers gleaned an immense amount of information from this ongoing study, much of it unexpected. One significant finding was that those in the group who developed warm personal relationships – the kind where the magic of mutual appreciation is always present – had more successful, healthier and longer lives. Today, seventy four years later, over a third of those who were good at forming close relationships are still alive. Thirty one men in the group were identified as being unable to form intimate bonds. Only four of those men are still alive.
We’re surrounded by people who are hugely important to us – spouses, parents, children, and close friends – people whose relationship with us is so vital that it deeply affects our well-being. It’s crucial that we don’t take those relationships for granted; that we never let those special people doubt their importance to us and how much we appreciate them. It doesn’t mean, however, that intimacy is a vital element of a nurturing relationship. We constantly interact with people we regard as special in different ways, and expressing gratitude to them brightens their lives as well as our own.
Our most important job every day should be letting those special people know that we appreciate their contribution to our lives. It wouldn’t take much of our time, yet that’s not the way many of us organize our days. Often we’re driven by a sort of niggling mild stress that causes us to put any number of other activities ahead of the important ones: We rush off business reports, we pay bills, we dash to the supermarket for groceries, we browse the web for information on a new car, we read the news, we book a tennis game, we go to the gym. We need to slow down, and then set aside a few minutes each day to take care of what really matters long term: our special relationships. That may mean making a few five-minute phone calls, or sending half-a-dozen brief, but thoughtful, emails. Even well-considered text messages can work magic. Better still, knocking on someone’s door if we’re in the neighborhood, and saying “just buzzing by, but I wanted to say hi” can work wonders.
A world of mutual appreciation, where terms like “thanks,” “have a nice day,” and “sorry,” are heart-felt expressions of gratitude or well wishing, is an empowering, enriching and better place to live. So, to end this blog post, I’d like to sincerely thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say. I really appreciate your dropping by. Please come back soon; you’ll always be welcome here.