Thanksgiving is gone.
It left us on Thursday.
Me, I wish every day was Thanksgiving. I love the notion of gratitude, and the way that that one day gives people the courage to be vulnerable, to say sober what we might not otherwise.
I’m so incredibly happy you’re in my life.
You make things better. You make me better.
You’re important to me.
Of course, I’m a Cancer, a sensitive piece of driftwood always hugging the shore, clingy and more needy than I should be. Still, I’d put gratitude right up there with the big 3—Love, Family, and Friendship.
The thing about gratitude is that showing and expressing it is easily done.
It costs nothing.
It’s no more complex or difficult, really, than breathing.
But when it’s done in an authentic and heartfelt way, it often takes a bit longer, though the impact on the other person is therefore stronger.
In an offhand way, my daughter once told me that “My drug is other people’s happiness.” To a large extent, she’s correct. Few things make me happier than making others happy, than making them feel good about themselves.
My life’s greatest mentor (who I’ve mentioned in previous columns here) once advised me: “Twice a day, for sixty seconds, tell someone how important they are, and why.” For most of my life, I’ve tried to do just that.
What I’ve found is that everyone is starving for affection. Everyone wants to be affirmed, to know that they matter, that what they do is special, and that someone actually notices.
When I was working in the corporate world, the company shipped me off to the Northeast to oversee a fleet of retail stores. Being that the new position was a big promotion, I was thrilled. At first, I was. Then… well…
After a week or so, I realized I’d ended up in Armageddon. We were massively overbought, our stores were getting slaughtered by the competition, and we were severely understaffed because our great people were getting scooped up by every retailer and wholesaler in the area (Manhattan, and the outlying area, is home to most every major player on the planet.)
A couple weeks into the job, I was on the phone with my mentor, who was in Seattle and then the president of the company. JC was a great listener, and he hardly said a word as I whined and whined about my predicament. Then, at the end of the call, he asked, “So, Len, are you writing any notes?”
I thought maybe we had a bad connection. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard any of what I’d just said. I thought he was very constipated and confused. When I told him as much, that Rome was burning with me in it, JC said, “Well, yeah, I heard you, but I think you should write your people some notes.”
At home that night, I still thought he was nuts. I screamed at the wall. I threw a few things. I threw a tantrum like a frustrated toddler.
Then I calmed down and realized, This was JC. If he says something, even something obscure, there’s value in it, a lesson somewhere.
So, for the next many months, I wrote people notes. Each day. Every day. Handwritten ones on the company stationary with my name and title above. I wrote simple but honest notes that read something like this:
I know things are really tough right now, but the more I see how hard you’re working, and what a talented merchant you are, the more confident I am that we’re going to be okay. I’m so glad you’re on our team. There’s no way I could do this without you.
Thanks for being here, for being you, and for caring so much.
I wrote dozens and dozens of notes like that. It didn’t take much effort, really. Two minutes a note, max. But the response was remarkable. You’d have thought I’d given them massive raises, or bought them swanky lofts in SoHo. Nope. They just wanted to be noticed, to have their efforts and contributions noticed. They wanted to matter.
After only a short time of my being on the east coast, I was pretty sure those people would have walked over hot coals for me, for the company. All because of some words. All because someone said, I see you. I care. I’m glad you’re here. You make a difference.
At the company I worked for, we’d get a lot of customer service notes praising salespeople. I really loved reading them and each month I’d write between 30-70 notes myself, to the salespeople who’d been praised. Again, I just scribbled in pen on a short piece of company stationary. But if I sent out 50 in a month, I’d typically get 45 new notes back thanking me for thanking them. Crazy, right?
Nope. People just want to know that what they’re doing has meaning.
The husband of one of the salespeople I wrote to sent me a letter back thanking me, and inside the letter was a Polaroid of my note, framed and centered on their refrigerator door where they’d be sure to see it several times a day. He wrote that it was the nicest “award” his wife had ever received.
Award? Nicest ever? What?
All I’d done was say, I see you. I’m grateful. You matter to me.
I have so many stories like those. I could give you hundreds more. Truly.
I’m a writer now. I do it full-time and feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do so. But the truth is, writing is a solitary enterprise. It can be a very lonely endeavor, fraught with all kinds of pitfalls like insecurity, anxiety, and a perverse apathy about one’s own writing production.
I am personally and acutely aware of those things. So, when I read a piece of writing that sings, something fresh, or lyrically beautiful, or something with a heart-and-head punch, it moves me. It does. (Remember, I’m a Cancer.) As Anne Lamott says, “I feel grateful for good writing the way most people feel grateful for the ocean.” Yep. That’s me, to a T.
And so, when I encounter writing like that, I try to track the writer down and tell them how sensational their work is. It doesn’t take much time, and again, my note is simple, but it’s authentic.
What’s striking is the responses I get. Here are a few actual snippets:
Your note made my entire month!!!
Thank you, thank you, thank you. This came at the perfect time. I was wondering if it even made any sense for me to write anymore.
You have no idea how much your kind words meant to me.
I showed my daughter your email and she hugged me and said, “See, Momma. Everyone knows you’re great.”
Even accomplished writers respond this way. Even if they’re only tossed so much as a teaspoon of praise or adoration. It’s actually a little dumbfounding, but it’s always a reminder that everyone—no matter who they are—could use some gratitude, that they want to know they matter, that they’re not out there alone in the ocean, sitting in a boat among the waves, wondering if anyone sees them.