A participant in our online course on Well-Being and Morale asked me, “Is saying thank you the same as expressing gratitude?” I was immediately struck by the question, unable to provide an immediate response. I had to really think about a response that wouldn’t seem too knee-jerk and could capture what I believe to be the substantive difference between the two. In short, my answer was no. I don’t think that saying thank you is the same as expressing gratitude.
The words “thank you” are often uttered in autopilot mode, as an expression of our own desire to convey politeness. Not to say that we aren’t truly thankful when uttering those words, but gratitude is a bit more; it’s awareness of the actions of another person and deep appreciation for the effort they exerted on your behalf. When expressed, it’s often felt as “I see you. I appreciate what you did for me, but more importantly, who you are.”
Gratitude is a powerful emotion. According to Barbara Fredrickson, researcher and author of Love: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, gratitude is one of the emotions associated with positivity, a key driver of happiness. Positivity, and therefore gratitude, impacts the way we perceive and navigate experiences. Regular expressions of gratitude, and increased experiences of positive emotions, have the ability to transform our hardwired responses to stressors, benefiting our mental health and potentially leading to increased happiness.
Practicing gratitude is just that, a practice. It requires reflection, perhaps through writing in a journal or meditation. Most importantly, we must allow ourselves time and space to thoughtfully consider and appreciate a person.
In the spirit of modeling, I am overjoyed to express my deepest gratitude to my son, Shiloh, on this, the occasion of his 12th birthday. My life with Shiloh has been an adventure. Every step hasn’t been a crystal stair but the journey beyond what I could have ever imagined. Shiloh openly giggles--often; he cares intensely about others’ feelings and needs; he has razzle-dazzle in his approach to fashion and sports; he sees no boundaries and regularly helps me shift my own point of view. He’s not a mini-me, which is cool. He knows exactly who he is and often fights to stand in his own truth. He’s a justice seeker, peacemaker, joke teller, and energetic lover of all things sweet. I have heard some proud parents describe their children as the best versions of themselves. That’s not Shiloh. He, instead, brings out the best in me; helps me strive for what I can become. I am grateful for all that he does for me. I am grateful for who he is.
During this time when so many are reflecting and putting into perspective our lives and relationships, I encourage you to identify the people for whom you are grateful and tell them.