In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks makes the insightful point that what we really wish to have cultivated in our lives when we look back, are, what he calls, “eulogy virtues.” He shares that every month he comes across a person who seems to exude these eulogy virtues. “They listen. They make you feel funny and valued,” and, says Brooks, “their manner is infused with gratitude.” We know these people, aspire to be these people, and one day a year, we get a day off work to practice being these people. It’s that special day of the year when we celebrate giving thanks.
I love Thanksgiving. I’m British, and we don’t have it. That to me is a big loss to Britain, and not just because of the pecan pie.
Two years ago Thanksgiving became even more special for me when an American friend of mine presented me with a letter at dinner. In it, she expressed her gratitude for our friendship over the years. I was pleasantly surprised and incredibly moved by the gesture. Later I found out that my friend not only wrote a letter of thanks to me, but she also wrote letters to all her relatives, co-workers, other friends, and even the cashier at Foodtown, and the gentleman who runs the dry cleaners she uses. It must have taken her weeks to write them all, and she did it for no other reason than she wanted to. She said she came away from the experience feeling more love in her life than ever before.
There is something magical about giving thanks. When gratitude is in the air, it spreads like wildfire. That would explain why blog posts with the word “gratitude” in the headline fare so well on social media and that gratitude books and journals fly off shelves – we all want to cultivate this particular “eulogy virtue.”
What I admire most about my friend’s Thanksgiving letters, is her commitment to something good, that is no simple task. While it may be familiar and easy to list the things we’re grateful for every day in a journal (the cat, a paycheck, a warm bed, the kindness of a friend), it’s different when sharing our true feelings with people we are grateful to. We must be willing to put in the time and effort as well as allowing ourselves to become more vulnerable.
When I asked my friend for advice about writing thank you letters, she said, “Don’t try to please people. Instead, focus on getting in touch with what you are sincerely thankful for. And, most importantly,” she finished, “don’t worry about how it’s received. It’s just not your business.” In other words, it’s about the intention behind the act, not the outcome.
Imagine if we all took the time to write a letter of thanks to hand out to those we spend Thanksgiving with. It may even be a better thing to bring to dinner than a pecan pie.
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