It’s Thanksgiving! Well, sort of. Here in the U.S., a day of national thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. If you are among our friends in Canada, “Jour de l’Action de Grace” occurs on the second Monday in October. But January also marks ‘National Thank You Month’ in the U.S. While it is certainly a time to be mindful of, and thankful for our many blessings, this month is set aside as a time to convey kindness to others by thanking them…for anything. Hopefully in writing!
A friend of our family, Superior Court Judge John Kralik of California, was inspired to write a wonderful book called 365 Thank Yous. It chronicles what led him to send a hand-written thank you note to friends, family, and others who made a difference in his life — one for each day of the year. What began as a deliberate exercise to bless the lives of others ended up changing his own life for the better…forever. Not only did his actions encourage those who received a card from him, it set in motion a whole series of positive events he could have never predicted would happen! Some people who remembered a kindness John had done for them years earlier suddenly sent him money…at just the right time when he needed it. Relationships that had cooled over time were thawed and healed. Positive things were happening to him and for him he simply could not explain…all because of what was set in motion with his simple act of faith and recognition by taking the time to say ‘thank you.’
Contemporary leadership speaker and life coach Jon Gordon is someone I greatly admire. I’ve been following his weekly blog posts after meeting him at a conference in October of 2009 when I learned that he and I had a similar experience in the job world. Recently, he came out with “20 Tips for a Positive New Year”…chief among them was: ‘be grateful; always maintain a thankful attitude.’ A very ‘thankful’ person by nature, Jon would be the first one to tell us that in order to live a successful life, we first have to ditch negativity and fill our minds with a thankful attitude in every thing we do. Need some encouragement? Here are a few success stories I learned from others just recently:
A police officer from a nearby town Up North had done a kind deed for someone, expecting nothing in return. Soon thereafter, a hand-written ‘thank you’ card arrived in the mail for him, containing a gift card to a local restaurant for him and his family to use.
Another story comes from a physical therapist who used to work with special needs children, one of whom in particular she helped to walk again after a tragedy removed that ability from them. When it came time for graduation, her student — who had been wheel-chair bound for several years (and for whom she had worked so hard on her own time) was wheeled up to the stage during that schools’ commencement ceremony…only to see him rise out of the wheel-chair and walk across the stage under his own power to receive his diploma — to the boisterous cheers and tears of his fellow students. So proud of the praise and positive encouragement he received from his physical therapist, he wrote her a hand-written ‘thank-you’ letter with a genuine kindness and compassion that melted her heart. That was payment enough for what she did for him.
Not many years ago, after I suffered a heart attack and bypass surgery, I wrote dozens of thank you notes to the people who worked to save my life and help me make a full recovery: to my cardiologist and heart surgeon, the ER doctors and nurses, to the individual medical staff on two different floors of Munson Medical Center’s cardiac wing who took such good care of me for those two weeks. Even the kitchen staff and those ever-smiling young people who brought up my meals got notes. Seeing some of them later, they said they rarely ever got recognized for their service. Those thank you cards meant a great deal to them. Their gift of life meant a great deal to me and my family!
Just before Christmas, I went down a list of former colleagues and supervisors I worked with on the Grand Rapids Police Dept., my first career. Surprisingly, I discovered many of them had died shortly after they retired, or had moved away with no known address. The few I did locate: two former road patrol partners, and a patrol lieutenant who I sent hand-written thank you notes to. I just wanted them to know how much I appreciated their service and influence on me, as well as their integrity and selfless dedication to duty. We went through some tough times together; I so admired their courage…and encouragement. I never really expected to hear from any of them, after all, it had been over three decades since we had worked together. Would they even remember who I was?
Well, one did…my former patrol lieutenant from the night shift. A very devout man of faith, he was also tough as nails – when he had to be. He was also a compassionate police officer and administrator who even coached boys sports teams on the side, and saw two of his own children become decorated police officers in that same department (one of whom, a daughter, still works there as a detective). He wrote me back right away, thrilled to be remembered for his influence; he said it “made his Christmas.” See what a little kindness can do?
I’ve even received such letters from a wide range of people in all walks of life: from little children, to political leaders…even a note from the Queen of England, prominent classical music composers, and others in recognition for notes of thanks or acts of kindness I once showed them. You see, kindness and compassion are contagious; you never know where they will lead you, or someone else.
On this National Thank You Month, why not take a moment to be deliberate about this: fetch a stack of thank you cards, and start thinking of all the people who have made a positive difference in your life — then write them a note and say so (by hand, if you can)! If you can’t think of anyone right off, then start at home…maybe a spouse, or even a friend. Once we start cultivating an attitude of gratitude, our hearts will begin to change shape. Their capacity for compassion and kindness will be enlarged. It all starts with one simple act of saying ‘thank you.’
Want to really have some fun this month? Then go make that list of people to thank. January is certainly known for being a pretty cold winter month here ‘Up North.’ But remember…nothing melts ‘ice’ quicker than a warm ‘thank you’ note, especially when it comes straight from your heart.