Giving Thanks. No, for Real

Forget vague praises for your good fortune. Be specific and thank those who have pushed you onward.


Credit: striatic / photo on flickr

It's Thanksgiving weekend, so let me suggest that you do something you may never have done before on this occasion: Give thanks. 

Not the kind that involves idly contemplating your good fortune. Not the kind that involves joining with family and friends around a groaning table to declare how lucky you all are. Not the kind that involves complimenting the hostess on the pumpkin pie. 

No, the kind that involves explicitly thanking someone who has done something valuable for you—particularly the kind of thing you can never repay. 

Some years ago, on some occasion that caused me to reflect on how I got to where I am, I started thinking about some of the people who made some crucial contribution along the way. It was a pleasurable exercise. What was not so pleasurable was what hit me next: that I had never fully expressed the gratitude I felt. 

One college classmate started me in my eventual trade when she grew weary of my complaints about the student newspaper, which she helped produce, and said, "Why don't you join it and make it better?"

I resisted, but in the end I accepted her challenge. A fateful step, it eventually made me into a college journalist and diverted me from my path to law school. 

That small encounter seemed inconsequential at the time. But had it not happened, where would I be today? Not where I am, for sure. I found her address, reminded her of the conversation, updated her on my life and thanked her for what she had done. 

She obviously had long forgotten the conversation. But she was also obviously pleased. "In my darker days, I wonder if I have ever made a difference in anyone's life," she wrote. "Thanks for letting me know I affected yours in a positive way." 

There was another classmate and student journalist who, when I was a struggling freelancer right out of college, invited me to write for the magazine where he was an editor. The offer came at a time when my prospects looked dim and I was thinking maybe law school was not such a terrible option. I wrote the piece; he used it; and other editors noticed. Soon I was getting published regularly, which eventually led to an actual writing job. 

Twenty-five years later, I sent him a letter telling him how important his help had been. He wrote back cheerfully to say he doubted he deserved so much credit. "But hell, if that's what you want to think, I'm not gonna stop you," he said. 

I suspect some recipients were skeptical when they heard from me out of the blue. It would be natural to suspect I was buttering them up before, after a brief interval, asking for a favor. Maybe after a while, when that request failed to materialize, they got some pleasure from realizing that the gratitude was sincere. 

One letter I almost didn't get to write. I had largely forgotten a journalist whose recurring non-credit college seminar on political thought had been a formative experience for me. But a mutual friend mentioned to me that he had a terminal illness. That was the prompting to do what I should have done long before. And I hope being reminded of his contribution was a small comfort as he approached the end. 

We all like to think we reached our goals because of our talent, determination and exemplary character. But none of us succeeds at anything without help. It's easy to forget a lot of what we owe to others. It's also easy to forget that our lives might be very different except for them. 

My suggestion, then, is that you take a few minutes over this holiday to remember some of the people who helped, educated or inspired you when you were younger. Then sit down and handwrite a letter letting one of them know. I am willing to bet that if you do, you will never regret it—and if you don't, you will. 

I warn you that once you start on this path, you will inevitably think of additional benefactors and more letters you need to write. That, by the way, is one of the benefits you will reap from this practice. When you do, you don't need to thank me. 

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. I would like to thank LBJ, Nixon, McNamara, and Kissinger for bungling the Vietnam war so thoroughly, and the NASA administrators after Apollo who couldn’t admit they had no plans and so came up with the horrendously awful space shuttle and space station. Both of them convinced me that government was incompetent.

    I would like to thank all the chiefs, officers, and ordinary sailors I spent four years with for convincing me that although the bureaucracy seemed to do a reasonable job, for a bureaucracy, and that individuals were generally good to excellent with a few idiots sprinkled throughout, they were held hostage by politicians, and once officers got to the flag ranks, they sold their souls to those politicians and made an unholy mess of everything. All told, the conglomeration convinced me that bureaucracies are unworkable messes which corrupt everybody as the rise through the ranks.

    I would like to thank all the traffic cops and judges who made it so plainly obvious that their only goal was controlling the masses, which I would have written off otherwise as just grumbling.

    I would not be an anarchist today without all those fine examples convincing me that government itself is the problem.

  2. I’d like to take this moment to thanks my American friends (and family scattered across the land) for tolerating the opinions of us Canadians on matters pertaining to America, fuck yeah.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    And remember, turkeys CAN’T FLY.

    1. As god as my witness, I thought they could…

  3. But what about those of us who find ourselves squatting in the smoking ruins of our dreams, scraping our sores in utter failure? Surely it wouldn’t be appropriate to blame anyone else on a special day for thanks.

  4. I’d like to thank Warty for teaching me all sorts of kinky sex to try. 🙂

    1. Don’t thank me. You had it in you the whole time.

  5. I’d like to thank the government for protecting me from illegal immigrants, dangerous drugs, and immoral acts.

    1. Carbohydrates. Standing on the top of a ladder. Second-hand smoke. Driving too fast on an interstate highway. The dangers of tearing out that tag from the new sheets you just bought. Drinking anti-freeze. Withdrawing more than $10,000 from a bank account. So many others. Thank you, Nanny.

  6. Where is the annual “Pilgrims had property right” articles?

  7. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

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