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The Encouragement of Thanks


20Jul 2008

Recently, my wife and I have had a couple of experiences together on which we both commented to one another.

One experience was actually two separate events that were similar and which occurred close together. As a family, we enjoy music and frequently go to music events of various kinds — concerts by professionals, school concerts, musical theatre productions, and free community events (e.g. concerts in a park). This summer we had the opportunity to go to a couple of professional productions and were able to take along some younger friends of ours and our family. The evenings went well and we drove everyone to and from the events. Now, we don’t invite or take others along in order to be thought well of, to receive praise, or to be viewed as magnaminous — we like to share the opportunity with friends who will enjoy the event but may not be able to go regularly. But both Kathy and I were struck by the apparent lack of appreciation (or at least, the lack of communicated appreciation) by the young friends who went with us. There was a casual, “Thanks!” as they got out and shut the door, along with a “See you tomorrow!”

This is in sharp contrast to another experience we had recently. A group of young single adults asked us to have a party at our place (we were pleased they felt comfortable to ask us) — and so we had a combination “hang out”, croquet, volleyball and outdoor movie night (we hung a cord between trees and hung a sheet as our movie screen). The evening turned out to be a lot of fun and we didn’t do much — they did most of the setup and all of the clean-up. So it was really no big deal for Kathy and I — it wasn’t costly in time or other resources. But the continual, repeated thanks we received from numerous members of the group has been almost overwhelming. Not only that night, but several times since, a number of individuals have gone out of their way to express appreciation to us. Again, we didn’t host the party in order to “look good”, or receive kudo’s. But the thankfulness and gratitude was encouraging to us — and in stark contrast to our other experiences.

Now the first group of individuals may be appreciative but as G.B. Stern has said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” And I found an Estonian proverb (do you know where Estonia is?) that states: “Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.”

As I work with financially successful families, one of the repetitive concerns voiced by the senior generation is that they don’t want their children or grandchildren to develop an attitude of entitlement. And I can honestly say that the amount of wealth a family has is not the best predictor of the next generation’s attitude — either of gratitude or entitlement. I work with some extremely wealthy ($50M and above) whose children are grateful for the little (and big) things their parents do for them (I know some young adults in families in the same range of wealth that don’t seem to have a clue about being thankful.) And I have worked with children, teens and young adults of a wide range of socioeconomic status who consistently whine, seem to always want more, and who do not seem to appreciate the sacrifices their parents (or grandparents) make for them. Sadly, this latter group also seems to have a hard time enjoying life.

So the point?

First, it never hurts to be reminded to not only be thankful for all the good things in our lives, but also to communicate thanks to others. There probably is a point where you can be overly grateful, but most of us are a long ways from that point.

Secondly, if you are a parent (even of young adult children), I would encourage you to reaffirm the importance of communicating appreciation to those who do something or give something to us. This can be done in many ways — a phone call, a hand-written note, an email, a “thanks for ..” the next time you see the person. And, as a parent, you may need to help structure the action (help them find a time and place to actually “do it”).

I know Kathy and I have been encouraged by some simple “thanks” this week. Hopefully, we can send a wave of encouragement to others in our lives, as well.

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