One of my earliest childhood memories is being paraded by our mother on Christmas morning to say “thank you” to our father for our brand new clothes. For years, I was excited to wear the same kind of outfit; a multi-layered puffy dress with a matching hat, stockings and shoes.
It felt good to go to church in that outfit, to spend three quarters of my time outside swirling, much to the envy and chagrin of my village peers.
But on the Christmas morning of my eleventh year on earth, it dawned on me that I was too old for multi-layered dresses. I told my parents as much. My mother was livid. My father, although laid back and soft-spoken was visibly upset.
On that day, I learnt that when people do something good, they want nothing less and nothing more than gratitude. Feedback, if necessary, can be given at a much later time. In that moment, they just want to feel that their efforts count for something.
Most people are as naïve as my eleven-year-old self. They do not know just how much power the simple phrase “thank you” wields. They do not know that recognition is one of the most pronounced human needs. That it rejuvenates the soul.
Consider a housewife. She knows that it is her duty to have dinner ready by the time her working husband gets home.
Regardless, the amount of love and effort with which she prepares each meal depends on whether or not he expresses heartfelt gratitude. If she feels genuinely appreciated, she is likely to become creative. However, if her husband is thankless, he is likely to eat mediocre meals prepared out of obligation.
And as time goes by, eventually obligation will not be enough and the housewife will start to find the idea of preparing dinner far too burdensome and far too tiring.
When the working husband starts to come home to simple snacks and haphazardly prepared meals, he will feel unappreciated for his efforts to provide for his family. His enthusiasm for providing will start to decline.
He will feel angry because he doesn’t even love his job. He is working for someone who constantly criticizes his employees. Because he is constantly put down, his performance has gone down. His boss is considering replacing him. He has also considered quitting but for family obligations.
And this is the power of gratitude. Without it, people’s spirits wither. They lose their confidence and self-esteem. They turn into bitter spouses, underperforming employees, and disgruntled friends who complain about being taken for granted.
Marriages end because “not once did he thank me for anything.” Employers incur costs associated with employee turnover, costs that they could have avoided if they just learnt to say, “Good job on that report. We appreciate your contribution to our company.”
In retrospect, the power of gratitude cannot be understated. Gratitude heals. It builds. It makes people want to do better. It makes people want to give more.