“I never get any thanks around here.” “No one appreciates me.” “I feel like my family/boss/spouse/kids just take me for granted.” “I go above and beyond, and now people just expect that from me; they don’t seem to appreciate what I do.”
We can’t control how others respond to us. We can ask for change. We can set boundaries, but we can’t make anyone feel appreciation for us.
What we can do, far too easily, is see faults in people around us, and in our own situations. When I’m overwhelmed, tired, stressed or under the weather, I sometimes struggle with seeing the positive. Suddenly, people seem like they’re out to get me: the weather is wrong, the car starts “making that sound again,” the neighbour kids steal my apples… it’s a rough life. A few years ago, I was reading about optimism and the impact on life expectancy. I quickly recognized that I had some work to do. I started with trying to be more grateful. I became intentional about noting the things I was thankful for and saying thank you whenever I remember: to the server in the restaurant, to my kid when he did what I asked him to, to my friends, to family. It’s helped. I do notice my optimism growing.
Being thankful is an action. An action that can seriously impact your feelings, other peoples feelings, and potentially, other actions. There’s been a ton of research on the impact of being grateful on mental, psychological and even physical health.
The biggest impact seems to be on people in their 20’s and 30’s, who may be ‘going it alone’ for the first time, or carrying the weight of family care.
Noting what you’re thankful for, at that stage of life reminds you that others are there for you, that there is good in the world, that you’re not alone.
Children and teens, apparently, don’t actually receive psychological benefits from gratefulness. This doesn’t meant they shouldn’t say thank you, it just means they’re not going to get the same endorphins, or sense of well being as a result. The theory is that this is because they have so little control over their lives, and saying thank-you just reminds them that they really do owe everything to others. The rest of us will definitely benefit from these types of exercises, especially in times of sickness, loss, or depression, when thankfulness can re-frame our situation for us.
We generally thank people, or ‘give thanks’ to God or a higher power. I think we can go further. In many Indigenous cultures, worldwide, it is customary to say thanks (often through ceremony) to an animal that has ‘given its life’ for our sustenance. This is also done for trees that are taken for human use. Thankfulness directed towards the earth for providing food is also common practice. In Western, European culture, which dominates much of society and media, Judeo Christian values still have strong influence, despite secularism and multiculturalism. Traditionally, in much of Christianity, ‘giving thanks’ was done through prayer. In my experience within Christianity, ‘giving thanks’ to anything other than God or another person was looked at, almost like praying to them, which was considered idolatry. Aside from the connection to idolatry, the understanding was that no one but humans and God have a soul, and everything else is beneath humans and not deserving or needing of thanks. I think much of this has become subconscious in our society today, but the outcome of this is that…
We take from the environment without consideration. We ‘dominate’ other species without respect. How would our use of land and resources change if we saw them as valuable parts of our world, deserving respect and honour, and gratefulness for what they give us?
In New Zealand, a river was actually given the rights of a human after much activism by Indigenous communities. Appreciating resources, I believe could shift how we use them.
For those of us who are doing well, financially, physically, or in terms of ‘climbing the social ladder,’ the idea that we have ‘done it alone’ is a myth. No one is an island. Everyone has been helped somewhere along the way. I think people should be given credit for hard work, but many people work hard and don’t find success. Acknowledging who has helped you to success, such as other individuals, good inherited traits, or just generally good treatment by society, can increase a sense of gratefulness and reduce feelings of entitlement that actually do not increase mental well being in the individual (or the rest of society).
So, let’s give thanks today, to those around us: to the land that provides our food and shelter, to the First People who allowed us to live here at the very start of this traditional holiday, to the society that provides us with infrastructure, to the water that flows through our pipes, to the electricity that comes through our wires, to our ancestors for the genes that have helped make us who we are…
Add your own thanks here…
Check out ‘Forgiveness,’ A Dirty Word?