When I was a little girl, my mother made my sister and I write thank-you notes to whoever gave us a gift, large or small, on our birthdays or for the Holidays. This from early on, when writing even one word was a laborious, tongue-biting experience.

We both hated it. We truly did not understand why we needed to write thank-you notes when we’d already thanked the person verbally. Not only that, but we were not allowed to write just any generic note either.

Mother was a stern (albeit loving) taskmaster. Each note had to be personalized to the individual who gave us the present and reflect something we particularly appreciated about the gift. I can still remember the anguish of such forced creativity!

The Power of Gratitude

And yet… my mother had been right. Gratitude is powerful. Science teaches us that gratitude tends to foster better, closer relationships. Gratitude, an appreciative attitude towards others, expressed verbally or otherwise, expands our social circles and makes it easier to make friends.

Even though my mother didn’t have any of the science to back up her insistence that we express our gratitude, she knew instinctively that it was good.

Take Kaye Koines, for example, who, at 86, volunteers – as she has for over 20 years – to read weekly to elementary schoolchildren. Kaye couldn’t fathom retirement without giving something back, even though she’d been giving to her community as a mental health worker for her entire working career.

Most importantly, Kaye says that although the children tell her that she gives so much, she feels they are giving so much more to her. Her gratitude to the children is immense. She reports feeling like a million dollars when she’s with them.

This is no great surprise: Kaye is benefiting from the physically and mentally invigorating and uplifting power of gratitude.  You see, gratitude is not only valuable as a social facilitator; it’s also tremendously good for our health.

Any time you express gratitude, sincerely and genuinely, you not only give a precious gift to others, you simultaneously offer yourself many gifts, not the least of which is improving your heart health and the quality and duration of your sleep.

Random Acts of Gratitude

I like to offer “random acts of gratitude.” I travel a lot for work, so I spend a fair amount of time in airports. The other day, I walked up to the boarding counter. A police officer sat nearby, surveilling the passengers hurrying to and fro, a frown firmly planted on his face.

I smiled and said to him, “Thank you for protecting us.” The frown disappeared, his face lit up – you would have thought I’d announced he’d won the lottery. “Thank YOU!” he said.

It’s so easy to express gratitude. It’s less a matter of the time it might take out of our already over-crowded lives, and more a matter of mindfulness.

How many times a day might you say “thank you” that you just don’t think to do so? Or, to come back to my mother’s approach, how often might you write a note to someone to express gratitude for something?

It doesn’t have to be for a gift, you can express your gratitude for anything and everything: the kindness someone showed you, the encouraging word they spoke, the insight they gave you.

Nowadays, you don’t even have to go through the gut-wrenching experience of good penmanship! Or finding decent notepaper, much less a stamp. Texts, emails, and emojis all make expressing our gratitude easy, quick, and simple.

My mother must be smiling in Heaven.

What are the simple ways you express gratitude to strangers? Do you find it hard sometimes to express gratitude to family members? What random act of gratitude do you remember most (whether on the giving or receiving side)? Please share those precious moments in the comments below.

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