Gratitude is important. Gratitude causes us to no longer desire a different life. Instead, it invites us to make the most of the one life we already have.
It calls us to recognize and celebrate the good. And in a society that works so hard to distract us from our blessings, the importance of gratitude cannot be overstated.
This is an important week as we set aside an entire day specifically for thanksgiving. May each of us make the most of it as we celebrate our blessings and thank those who have made it possible.
But this year, I have been challenged by a new question. What if, rather than just asking, “What do I have to be thankful for?” we also began asking, “What do I want to be thanked for?”
I first heard the question posed by a good friend of mine during a conversation we were having about important life decisions. He phrased it this way, “I just keep asking, ‘At the end of my life, what do I want to be thanked for?’” He then began listing some of the things he wishes his family would be able to say to him and about him.
I immediately found his question to be highly profound and uniquely clarifying. It is worth taking the time to arrive at an answer:
At the end of your life, what do you want to be thanked for?
The question calls us to make specific decisions about legacy and values—and it challenges our assumptions that our lives will unintentionally arrive at them. It causes us to align our practice with our principles. And that is what makes it so important.
Also, since our conversation weeks ago, I have discovered the question has almost limitless potential.
What if I changed the question just slightly? What if, rather than “At the end of my life, what do I want to be thanked for?” I asked myself, “At the end of this week, what do I want to be thanked for?” Or even more specific, “By the end of the day, what do I want my co-workers/spouse/children to thank me for?”
This question could influence my life on an almost hour-by-hour basis.
For example, I have a friend who is a local highway patrolman in the Phoenix area. He once told me that his goal with every traffic stop is to receive a thank-you from the driver of the vehicle by the end of the conversation. “Look,” he said, “nobody is ever happy about being pulled over. But I’ve found that most people, if you treat them with respect and kindness, will take notice. And you’d be surprised how many end our interaction by saying, ‘Thank you officer’. That’s always my goal.”
What if that became our desire as well? What if we entered every interaction with another human being asking ourselves, “At the end of this conversation, what do I want them to thank me for?”
Almost always, I think, we would arrive at the answers of:
- I want to be thanked for being loving and attentive.
- I want to be thanked for being encouraging and a positive influence in their day.
- I want to be thanked for making a small difference in their life.
How might those motivations go on to affect the expression on our face, the words that we choose, or the attention that we give? It would be profound.
Again, there are countless opportunities to apply this thinking. I’d like to offer one more:
At the end of Thanksgiving day, what do you want your family to thank you for?
Then, ask yourself: What atmosphere do I need to create for that happen? What conversation do I need to have? Or what good can I offer that somebody closest to me needs the most this Thanksgiving weekend? The question could prove to be impactful, regardless of your family dynamic.
This Thursday, express as much gratitude as possible. But take some time in the midst of your thanksgiving to ask yourself more than, “What do I have to be thankful for?” Ask yourself, also, “What do I want to be thanked for?”
And then, go make it a reality.