Growing up in my family we were expected to start the painful work of writing thank you letters the day after Boxing Day. In my husband’s family thank you’s were, and are, always expressed in person or on the phone.
Most religions, including Christianity, advocate the practice of gratitude. Psychological and medical science are catching up, with research showing that those who keep ‘gratitude journals’ are happier and healthier in some distinct ways. (You can follow this up by listening to the Count Your Blessings episode of Dr Michael Mosley’s BBC podcast Just One Thing). But saying thank you, whether in writing or speech, to someone personally for something specific is a little different. And its effect can be more profound than mere politeness.
As human beings, we are ‘relational’. We express ourselves in our contacts with others. In each I-You relationship we show a slightly different facet of our identity; and each I-You relationship has the potential to shape us, a little or a lot. The insistent message of our culture, however, often emphasises our independence and self-determination above all else. There are occasions when separating ourselves from unhealthy relationships is a good choice, but if by doing so we exclude all others then we lose more than we have gained. To flourish, most of us need connection; we need to be noticed, affirmed and encouraged by others. Receiving someone else’s heartfelt ‘thank you’ for something we have said or done is a brick in the edifice that is our sense of self and wellbeing.
This weekend, a range of media and organisations are advocating that we thank those who have helped us personally during the last 15 months – Sunday 4th July is designated ‘Thank You Day’, www.thankyouday.org.uk . I don’t know whether this will be picked up sufficiently in our media and communities to become a big thing. But whether that happens or not, why not use this as a prompt to write a thank you card to someone who has helped you personally, or whatever equivalent is your way of connecting over a ‘thank you’.