Two simple words form one of the most powerful phrases on earth.
And yet few of us say it enough.
That phrase is “thank you.”
A simple but sincere thank you can lift sagging spirits, hurdle mountainous barriers and convey that you care about others, not simply yourself.
The world has become so coarse that people who practice what long ago was called “common courtesy” are looked upon in some quarters as oddities.
It wasn’t always this way.
The Roman philosopher Cicero called gratitude the mother of all virtues. From patriotism to friendship, he said, all that goes into a good society is rooted in thanks.
There’s power in counting those kinds of blessings, and not just on the last Thursday in November. Let’s make the mother of all virtues into the mother of all habits. Today and every day, thank someone.
But the mother of all virtues, like so many other mothers, tends to be taken for granted. We check in on it once a year, maybe, at Thanksgiving. Otherwise, we don’t call. We don’t write. We emulate the rude, over-the-top politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle that populate the cable-network talk and news shows.
We should revisit that attitude, if only out of enlightened self-interest. Over the past decade and a half, a growing body of academic research has borne Cicero out.
Corny as it may sound, all sorts of social benefits arise from the consistent counting of blessings; just ask Robert A. Emmons, a UC Davis psychology professor whose work on thankfulness has spawned a burgeoning field of gratitude studies.
People who jot down five things a week for which they feel grateful report a 25 percent increase in feelings of happiness, for instance. They get 33 percent more exercise, suffer 10 percent fewer stress-related illnesses and enjoy a half-hour more sleep each night than control groups.
Teenagers with a grateful attitude are 10 times less likely to start smoking. Grateful adults live as much as seven years longer. People grateful for favors are more likely to pay it forward.
Regularly counting blessings “magnifies the good things in a person’s life,” Emmons said. That magnification in turn creates a feeling of abundance that makes us feel more connected and generous.
And that builds on itself: With enough practice, he says, gratitude for family or health or turkey with stuffing evolves into an appreciation of less self-centered gifts – the air we breathe, the water we count on, the political institutions that don’t work without our participation. The sacrifices of those who have made life so much easier for us. This, in turn, incites the desire to help make society better, to give back.
These are not grateful times. The power of fear compels us. Commerce and politics conspire to tell us that there isn’t enough to go around, and that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Their warnings wouldn’t be so shrill if they didn’t have another side to them.
Over the past 100 years, three decades have been added to the average American lifespan. Once-terrifying diseases like polio and smallpox have been all but conquered. Human beings who were once punished for how they looked or whom they loved are regarded more fairly.
There’s power in counting those kinds of blessings and not just on the last Thursday in November. Let’s make the mother of all virtues into the mother of all habits. Today and every day, thank someone.