Monday, November 25, 2013

An extra helping of gratitude...

Simply Living
After I give my two-year-old granddaughter a glass of milk, she utters an automatic “Thank you.” It’s so sweet to hear those words come out of a toddler’s mouth even if they’re the mere mimicking of a learned response.

Photo by Jenny Boas

When parents stress politeness, children begin to speak words of gratitude shortly after they learn to talk. The hope is that those learned responses will turn into true sentiments of thankfulness as children mature. Often they do. Many children grow up to be caring and sensitive adults who express their appreciation for the gifts in their daily lives with heartfelt words of gratitude.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some children either don’t grow up in families where politeness is practiced, or they fail to progress beyond the automatic utterance of a meaningless phrase.

These days, even the phrase ‘thank you’ is often reduced to the two-letter acronym “ty” in tweets and text messages. I can’t help but wonder if this reduction in verbosity translates into a loss of meaning. 

Do we, as a nation, feel less thankfulness because we express appreciation in a more abbreviated fashion than in times gone by?

It seems that these days, words of gratitude are either absentmindedly expressed or missing entirely. All too often, the recipient of a gift or kindness fails to respond with any salient sentiment of appreciation at all. The sad part is our rote acceptance of such rudeness. By accepting, are we allowing ourselves to become a nation of takers, insensitive to the needs of others?

Sometimes I wonder if we’re just a little too spoiled. Most of us live in secure homes in safe neighborhoods. We sleep on comfortable beds and prepare meals in well-stocked kitchens with hot and cold running water. We drive cars, eat at restaurants and own a myriad of high-tech toys. We’re unrestricted in our choices of where to live, work, travel or play yet we take those freedoms for granted. We not only accept our many gifts willingly but we complain when they’re not working the way we expect them to do. At the same time that we’ve become expert at expressing displeasure, it seems like our ability to profess gratitude has diminished.

I suspect the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines could teach us a thing or two about gratitude. Overcoming life-threatening events reminds us of what is truly important in life, and — news flash — it’s not buying the fanciest car or the newest smart phone. True thanksgiving is about acknowledging the very essence of life itself in all its small and seemingly insignificant details.

Later this week, the nation will celebrate Thanksgiving. Sumptuous servings of entrees, side dishes and desserts will be passed around tables surrounded by families and friends. For some, the occasion will be a true expression of love and appreciation while for others it will have no more meaning than the abbreviated acronym at the end of a text.

Thankfulness is a learned concept. Rather than a second course of turkey, I think many of us would be better off with a refresher course on gratitude.

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