Why Thankfulness Matters
This week people across America will be celebrating Thanksgiving. While this holiday has its origins going back to the 1600s with the Pilgrims it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln that we formally acknowledged the last Thursday in November as the day of celebration. Franklin D. Roosevelt altered that in 1939 when there were five Thursdays in November. FDR declared the fourth Thursday to be the official day and the Senate ratified his decision in 1942, officially making the fourth Thursday Thanksgiving in the United States.
The truth is we should be thankful every day and multiple times each day because there’s so much to be grateful for. If
Viktor Frankl could find reason to give thanks while held prisoner in Nazi concentration camps then we can all find reasons to be thankful each day. Unfortunately it’s human nature to take things for granted so it’s not until something is missing that we appreciate it more. That’s the principle of scarcity in action.
Speaking of being thankful, here’s an example of the wrong way to go about it. Many years ago a colleague needed help with something. What was asked not only required my time but the time of several others as well. It forced us to put things on hold for other people but nonetheless we “stopped the presses” and accommodated the request. This person got what they needed and went about their business the next day. What stood out to me was this – never did they thank us in person, by phone, or in writing. I remember thinking, “I don’t work for thanks. I get paid well to do my job,” but I also knew in my heart I wouldn’t extend myself for that person again and I certainly wouldn’t ask others to do so.
I don’t think I’m different than the average person in this regard. When I go out of my way to help someone – even when paid – if I don’t get some acknowledgment of appreciation I know I won’t try as hard the next time. Contrast that with people who offer genuine thanks and appreciation. I bet most of you would go above and beyond for such people.
Giving thanks is a form of reciprocity. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. According to the French social psychologist Marcel Mauss, every human society teaches its people the way of reciprocity. We see this as we raise our children because one of the first things we teach them to say is, “Thank you,” when someone has done something for them.
Because we’re all brought up in the way of reciprocity most people are somewhat offended when the person they helped cannot take a moment to say thanks. Beyond offense, people are less willing to help thankless people as time goes by. It’s a natural human response.
Here’s why thankfulness matters. When you do express sincere appreciation people are more likely to help you – and others – in the future. Think about it; you help someone, they express gratitude, and you feel good about the action you took. You’re naturally more likely to repeat behaviors in the future that made you feel good about yourself. And the person you helped is more likely to help others too. That’s called “paying it forward.”
As we approach the day that commemorates giving thanks pause to reflect and see if you’re someone who regularly gives thanks when someone does something for you. If you don’t, or don’t as regularly as you should, make a commitment to start. I think you’ll be amazed at how people respond to you and you’ll be thankful you changed your ways.
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