- Chapter 16 -
Then, if I asked "How?" you and others like you would offer a variety of answers. Some might think of taking toys to a children's home, or calling on a sick person in a nursing home, or delivering food baskets to poor people at Christmas time. Of course, there would be gifts and special favors for loved ones and friends. These would all be good ideas, but they would hardly be daily events.
Then suppose it were suggested that you have it within your power to make people happy every day. Not that you can turn a miserable person into an ecstatically happy one, but that you can contribute a measure of happiness to other people's lives much more than you might have thought possible. One way is by thanking people, expressing appreciation to those who do things for you, who serve you on a daily basis. Most waiters and waitresses these days wear name tags. If you go up to the waitress after she has done her job well, look at her, smile, and say, "Thank you, Shirley, for the excellent service", you have no idea how much it might mean to her. You have used her name, recognizing her as an individual; you have given her a sense of self-worth and have made her feel good about herself. When you see her reaction, you feel good yourself.
I was discussing this with a waitress one day, and she said, with extreme bitterness, "Some people treat me like dirt." That is cruel and so needless. It takes such a little effort to say something nice. People in this world do not say, "Thank you" enough. And it has always been that way. In Biblical times, many people were afflicted with leprosy, a terrible disease which eventually led to death. As they were waiting to die, they were rejected by others and had to warn people of their presence by constantly saying, "Unclean. Unclean." Jesus miraculously cured ten people of leprosy, yet only one of the ten came back to thank him. (Luke 17:11-19)
A modern example of this took place one morning when a man held a meeting at his office. Because it was Saturday, the main door was locked, so a secretary greeted each arriving person in a friendly manner and escorted him or her to the conference room. When all were assembled, she took individual orders for coffee. When the meeting was over, the secretary was standing by the door when the visitors left. They all passed by her as if she were a wooden post. If someone had only stopped and said, "Thank you for your hospitality.", she would have been elated.
Events like this happen to people of all ages, and frequently. Such an occasion can lead to hurt feelings, or it can be an opportunity to give someone a real boost.
Here is an idea you may wish to adopt. Some leisurely evening sit down and make a list of people who have meant a great deal to you in life, or who have done some particular favor or set of favors. Write them letters -- they can be very simple -- and say thank you. You will be astounded at the pleasure this will give, but also the pleasure you will get when the responses come. This was my reaction when I sent out 20 such letters. I was overwhelmed by the response, joy and appreciation; some were so touched, they were tearful.
The lecturer who proposed this idea suggested starting with one or more grade school teachers. He told of one person's getting a tear-stained response from a dear old soul who said that in a lifetime of teaching this had been the first "Thank you" she had received. When I hear from former students, I am thrilled far more than they would believe possible. A college faculty member is more likely to get such recognition than those valiant souls who deal with young children year in and year out. As the twig is bent, so the tree grows, and the teachers in the early grades may have the greatest influence in terms of character and attitude toward learning.
Here is an example of such a letter:Dear Mr. Martin:In addition to teachers, people in a variety of categories would enjoy expressions of thanks and appreciation -- old friends, current friends, relatives, employees ("Very uplifting" said one employee), and even -- should this be surprising? -- close members of the family. There is something about formulating a statement in writing which makes it impressive.
This evening I have been thinking about people who have had an influence on my life, and you came to mind. I remember your class in sixth grade in General Science so vividly. I never became a scientist, but I frequently find myself reading about scientific discoveries in the news with great interest, and I believe it is because you developed such enthusiasm on my part at an early age. You did more than stimulate an interest in General Science; you instilled a love of learning.
I just wanted to express my gratitude for what you did for me at an important point in my life.
This is an example of a letter to a friend of many years standing:Dear Joe:There are many people who would read the above and respond, "Cornball" or "Sentimental slush." While some people of fine moral character would not feel comfortable about writing letters such as these, I would suggest that many people who respond with such reactions are saying something about themselves. Some individuals project such a image of hardness or selfishness, or both, that if they ever did write such a letter -- and they probably would not -- the recipient might respond, "What is he trying to get?"
On a leisurely Sunday evening, I have been sitting here thinking about people who have meant a great deal to me in my life, and I decided to write this letter to tell you how much I have enjoyed our friendship over the years, how much I appreciate the fun we have had together. Also, I will never forget what a support you were when Sally died.
Thank you, Joe, for your friendship.
A speaker at a school assembly told the students that they could make some people happy just by thinking up something for which they could express gratitude. He went on to say, "Don't all express gratitude to your teacher at once, because she might fall over in a dead faint! If you would go home and say, 'Thank you for being such a good Mom or Dad (or both).' you would certainly make them happy." A few tried it and reported later that it worked wonders.
In person or in letters expressions of gratitude expressions of gratitude can be a happy experience for both the giver and receiver.