When we were kids, gratitude was a fundamental part of our everyday lives; birthdays and Christmas always ended with us sitting down to handwrite thank you notes; play dates and birthday parties were followed by a phone call, thanking our friend and their parents. This was expected, even after we had thanked them at the time.
These habits continued into adulthood; if we were invited to a dinner party we would go along with a small gift for the host or hostess – a bunch of flowers, some chocolates, a bottle of wine – to thank them for inviting us. The day after we would call and express gratitude for the meal and their hospitality.
As the years progressed and technology became ubiquitous, we would e-mail, SMS or WhatsApp our gratitude. This always bothered me somewhat as it seemed impersonal, but I accepted that the times had changed (I must just say that my sensibilities will simply never allow me to thank people for anything significant via Facebook or Twitter!)
Over time, I have witnessed the steady demise of genuine and heartfelt gratitude. Thanks is now expressed as quickly as possible. It is often limited to 3 characters – thx – in a text or e-mail or – more-often-than-not – not expressed at all. This is a tragedy and not simply because the demise of gratitude would seem to be reflected in a general demise of civility and good manners. The real tragedy is that when we lose gratitude, we lose joy.
In their poignant and powerful book, “The Book of Joy” two great spiritual leaders and joy junkies the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu point to gratitude as a key ingredient of a joyful life. Along with compassion for others and the ability to reframe ones’ reality more positively – to see the glass half full if you like – spiritual leaders and psychologists alike agree that a life of gratitude is a life more joyful. This is why we see the current trend of gratitude journals and self-help books that teach us about the power of being thankful. Without gratitude, we become cynical, hard and cranky.
As a parent my greatest desire for my child is for her to be happy. My wife and I can often be heard sprouting the old cliché; “We don’t really mind what she becomes, we just want her to be happy!” But for her to nurture true happiness and joy, we must teach her to practise gratitude and we must model a life of gratitude ourselves. By cutting our moaning, choosing to see the good and the beautiful in others and the world around us; by celebrating regularly, we model a lifestyle of gratitude and we plant the seeds of this in our little one.
And yes, she writes hand-written thank you cards for her presents and she calls people to say thank you for a party. However, for as long as she is under my roof she will never – I repeat, never – thank someone using Facebook or Twitter!
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
All his writing – regardless of topic – is dedicated to the memory
of Anene Booysens and Emmanuel Josias Sithole.
firstname.lastname@example.org | www.peaceagency.org.za