One of the things our parents drummed into our ears as children from the time we learned to talk was to say thank you (and please). We grew up saying Thank You for as many things as I can remember. We said thank you as we were handed our groceries, or change in the store; thank you to someone who held the door for us, and thank you to the person who passed us the salt or bread at dinner. Thank you to the one who drove us home safely be it in a car or bus, to the one who paid for our meal, to the one who cooked, to the one who served, to the one who cleaned. Thank you for the food, for rain for sun, for the people in our lives, for parents, teachers, and for crisp clean sheets as we tucked ourselves into bed at night. We said thank you. It became a spontaneous response to situations or moments at hand for the smallest of things to the big things that in everyday life could be taken for granted.
Many years ago, I happened to be in Jordan as a guest in the home of an acquaintance. The home was in a settlement camp on the outskirts of Amman. There, the houses were made of mud brick. The interior walls and floors were covered with rattan. Some had decorative kilim rugs. Furniture was scant. Seating for family meals was usually on low stools or pillows on the floor surrounding a large tray of food from which all would eat. Mattresses laid side by side sufficed for sleeping accommodations for the many members who shared a household. Electricity was available through a maze of cable wires that drew their energy source from a few main electrical posts. Water, a necessary commodity, was fetched from communal faucets outside the homes where children and adults would gather to carry a supply in buckets. Above these faucets scattered around the “camp” were signs that read “USHKUR,” which meant “Give Thanks.” A child carrying two buckets of water explained to me with a huge smile on his face that because the novelty of having something wears off and eventually is taken for granted, the sign was to remind them to be thankful for what they had. Gratitude. Regardless of their material poverty, their gratitude stemmed from the riches of their hearts. It stemmed from seeing every opportunity offered as a gift and not as an entitlement.
In the Arab world or Armenian culture, gratitude is a language unto itself. “May your hands never feel pain.” “May the next meal you cook be in celebration of your child’s happiness.” “You see me through kind eyes.” “May God extend your life.” “May your prayers be heard.” “May your hands that gave me this gift be blessed.” “May your table always be bountiful.” “May your pockets be blessed,” and so it flows, with an infinite string of prayerful appreciation for deeds done, meals eaten, gifts received, compliments paid and so on.
No matter how we say it, and in whatever language, Thank You goes beyond good manners. It serves as one of the more important ways in which we interact with others, both with those closest to us and those with whom we have contact for the briefest of times. US psychologist Sara Algoe of the University of N. Carolina, published a study in June 2012 based on the Find-Remind-and-Bind Theory of Gratitude. The research specifically looked at how expressions of gratitude among strangers shape social relations. According to this theory, gratitude ‘finds’ new friendships, ‘reminds’ people of existing relationships and ‘binds’ them further in the relationship. For example, the verbal expression of appreciation of kindness in a simple Thank You becomes the survival language in a foreign country that connects us to the social and cultural norms of an unknown people.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I “thank you” my readers. Each time I sit down to write my blog, I try to express ideas and feelings that make a difference in my life, and I hope in yours too. Like the child fetching water in Jordan, may you see all that you have received in and around your lives as gifts given you…nothing bought, nothing earned, nothing traded in, nothing owed, nothing entitled. Pure and simple gratitude for the value of what life and those around you offer. With an immense wealth of gratitude nestled in my heart, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!