Kathy Laurenhue

Recently, an English cashier in a small store I frequent made a comment about being stressed and wishing he could be a woman who could do twice the work in half the time. I gave him credit for a good line, and he said that he was no fool. Being married for 37 years had taught him a thing or two. He went on to say that when he found three empty toilet paper rolls lined up on the windowsill in the master bathroom, he took the hint that his wife was asking him to change a roll himself from time to time. I left with my purchase, laughing at his oversharing in such a fine British accent.

But it got me thinking. My theory is that one reason emails that are innocently written frequently cause offense is the human tendency in many of us to assume someone is displeased with us. Most of us are deficient in Vitamin P, i.e., we receive little Praise in our daily lives. That is slowly changing with a huge movement toward expressing gratitude – which often manifests itself in praise.

Gratitude’s benefits are many. In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky says:

  • Grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive life experiences.
  • Expressing gratitude bolsters self-worth and self-esteem because it encourages us to consider what we value about our current lives.
  • Gratitude helps us cope with stress and trauma. 
  • Expressing gratitude encourages moral behavior. 
  • Gratitude can help build social bonds, strengthening existing relationships and nurturing new ones.
  • Practicing gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, envy, and greed.

In short, if you can create an atmosphere of gratitude in your setting, you will have created a place where people want to be. Where, indeed, they are delighted to be. Being grateful is essentially about seeing the present (gift) in being present in the moment. The no excuses clincher is that there is zero cost to these initial steps.

Step 1: Smile. That was covered in the last column. It’s a chasm-crosser.

Step 2: Say please and thank you. In long-term care settings, everyone’s life is a list of daily tasks, which means we give and take lots of orders. By saying please and thank you, we are acknowledging that we are asking favors of others and that we’re grateful for their help. Don’t underestimate what that means in even the simplest of situations. When an aide asks, “Would you please put your arm in this sleeve?” as she is assisting a resident in dressing, she is seeing the person before her, not just the task.

Step 3: Even more important, say, “You’re welcome,” or “It was my pleasure.”
A while back, a teenage bagger at my local grocery store said, “My pleasure” when I thanked him for stuffing my canvas bags, and I complemented him on the phrase. Now it’s standard wording at the grocery chain. It’s unlikely that my praise helped make it policy, but here’s why it’s important:

When I say “thank you,” I am letting you know that the nice thing you just did – even if it was something as simple as holding a door open for me – was a gift to me that I appreciated. My thank you is a gift in return; it means I do not take that gesture for granted. When you say, “You’re welcome,” or “It was my pleasure,” you are extending the gift by letting me know that you were glad to make that gesture on my behalf. We have established a bit of rapport and mutual respect.

If instead, you say, “No worries,” or something similarly dismissive, you are rejecting my thank-you (my return gift) and suggesting that what you did for me meant nothing to you.

If that all seems a bit over-analyzed, I ask only that for a few days you pause, look each person you have helped in the eye and try sincerely saying, “You’re welcome,” or “My pleasure.”  Then tell me whether your relationship feels renewed or stronger. Because:

When you create tiny rituals of gratitude, people blossom.
As the above lengthy explanation suggests, small statements send strong messages. The next time you lead a meeting or an activity:

  • Open with a gratitude greeting: I’m so grateful you’re all here.
  • Close with a gratitude farewell: I’m so glad we had this time together.
  • Offer individual praise: I love coming in each day and seeing your smiling face.

When I was quite new to the LTC field, I was scheduled to give a conference presentation immediately after a more accomplished, charismatic, and absolutely gorgeous colleague of whom I was frankly jealous. Between sessions, before I began, she came up to me and praised my work. That magnanimous gesture turned us into lifelong friends and made me a better person to others. Never underestimate the power of a sincere compliment.

One of the most provocative questions: What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you are grateful for today?

Let that (and good cheer) govern your actions and watch the reactions.

Kathy Laurenhue, M.A. heads Wiser Now, Inc., a multi-media publishing and staff development company focused on wellbeing in aging that aims to be practical and lighthearted in everything from books and online courses to downloadable brain games in the form of 75+ MindPlay Connections™ titles and Mood Elevator™ posters. 


How Gratitude Boosts Happiness from The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky