Let’s say you are to be paid ten dollars every time you are the recipient of an act of kindness. If someone gives you a chocolate you are paid ten dollars. When someone opens a door for you, ten dollars is yours. If someone gives you five dollars, you get paid another ten.
Your brain would become adept at noticing acts of kindness. Pretty soon you would find yourself being the recipient of kind acts everywhere. Even if someone were to merely pass you the salt, you would perceive that as an act of kindness and be paid ten dollars.
Now, let’s say that instead of receiving ten dollars, you thanked the person. If someone washes your car, you thank them. If someone opens a door for you, you thank them. With that habit of thanking someone, your brain would again become adept at noticing acts of kindness, and you would find yourself being the recipient of kind acts everywhere.
‘The more we say ‘thank you’ the more we feel our abundance . . . . . We focus
on what is there, not what isn’t.’
The more acts of kindness we notice, the more fortunate we feel. That’s good for us, because even though we forget each particular incident, together those incidents make up a tapestry, an idea, of a fortunate life.
By remembering the good stuff, and letting the rest drift by, we come to develop a positive view of the world. And in the process, we feed our soul.
Further, when someone is kind to us, that kind person is saying that we are worthy of their kindness, (even if all they did was pick up something we dropped). They are acknowledging our existence and in doing so, creating a bond. Even if that bond lasts for only a second we still feel valued, and connected, and that goes towards satisfying our deep need to belong.
In his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Victor Frankl recounted an experience in a World War II Nazi concentration camp:
‘I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears at the time. It was the human ‘something’ which this man also gave to me – the word and look which accompanied the gift.’
What happens if we are not in the habit of thanking people? Then we don’t notice acts of kindness, and we miss out on feeding our soul. We miss out on that second or two of connection.
Have you met people who don’t express gratitude? Who take things for granted? Sad, empty people, who can’t sort the good from the bad. Everything is the same to them: flat. They live a flat life.
But the ones who are grateful, who thank the taxi driver, who thank the shopkeeper when they are handed the change, who thank and thank and thank, keep noticing their good fortune, and keep refreshing the connection they have with humanity.
The key: thank people. The more we do, the more we notice our good fortune, and over time that will shape the way we look at life. It is not positive thinking, it’s much more than that – we are actually shaping our view of the world, to one in which we feel connected.
‘The more I look for good things in my life the more my brain becomes alert to good things, scans for good things, and finds good things. . . . Previously my brain was wired to scan for bad, and it was exceptionally good at finding it.’
Every time someone is kind to you, even if it’s something trivial (like stepping aside to let you pass) notice their kindness by saying Thank you. It’s an effective way to develop the feeling of being fortunate and connected. It’s an effective way to feed our soul.
‘A fortunate man is a man who thinks he is fortunate’.
Q. ‘Are you asking us to be grateful?’
No. Gratitude is an emotion, and I’m not suggesting we manufacture an emotion. I’m suggesting we develop the habit of thanking people for even small acts of kindness. That way, we get good at noticing those acts of kindness, and that will shape within us a positive view of the world.
‘When I was a child my brother and I played a game in which the first one to see a Volkswagen beetle would punch the other’s arm and yell out ‘Punch Buggy’.’
‘We became good at noticing Volkswagen beetles. Do you want us to get good at noticing favours, by thanking people?’
Q. You are asking us to thank people. Isn’t that being moralistic?’
This key has nothing to do with politeness or morals. I’m suggesting we thank people for our benefit, not theirs.
Q. ‘Feeling gratitude creates a power imbalance: the giver bestowing the favour, and the grateful recipient humbly accepting the proffered gift. That’s an exaggeration perhaps, but it’s a power imbalance just the same. I’d rather live my life feeling I deserved what I got, not feeling I was lucky to get it.’
I’m not asking you to feel grateful, I’m asking you to say, ‘thank you’. Over time, you will start feeling grateful without having to manufacture it.
‘But I don’t want to feel grateful. Let’s say I try hard at something and succeed, and win an award. I deserve that award, so why should I be grateful for it? If I earned it, why should I give thanks? We can’t feel deserving and grateful at the same time, and if we go through life believing we don’t deserve what we get, that we’re just fortunate, well, that can’t be a good thing, can it?’
Do you find feeling grateful disempowering?
‘Someone only has pass me a pen and I’m supposed to say thanks. I buy something and I’m supposed to say thanks when they give me the change. But it’s my change; they owe it to me. If I win a medal for best team player, my teammates don’t thank me for being Mr Reliable, do they? No, I have to thank them for the medal. It doesn’t make sense.’
I found a mango on my tree which had not been eaten by bats or possums, and I felt grateful. But I had spent a lot of time looking after that tree, and deserved that mango. Yet, I’d rather feel grateful for it than deserving.
If I feel grateful, I feel fortunate, and that’s a pleasant feeling to have. The alternative feeling, that I deserved the mango, is less satisfying. Besides, if feeling grateful gives me a positive view of the world, do I care about ‘power imbalances’?
When you say ‘thank you’ you don’t have to feel grateful. Think of the words as a tax on getting stuff. As for winning that medal, when you thank your teammates, don’t assume you are thanking them for the medal. Inwardly thank them for not taking you for granted, and for taking the trouble to acknowledge your achievement. Does that help?
A good way to thank someone:
A quick Thank you is sufficient in most instances, but sometimes we want to really thank a person:
Step 1. Thank the person, explaining what they did for you.
‘Thank you for cooking dinner.’
‘Thank you for driving me to soccer.’
‘Thank you for being on time.’
‘Thank you for being nice to me on my first day here.’
Step 2. Explain how your life would be different had you not been assisted. Give examples.
(It’s another way to ‘tag’ your good fortune.)
‘Getting a meal is so pleasing.’
‘I love playing soccer.’
‘I like it when you are on time, because . . .’
‘It makes a big difference when someone is nice . . .’
Step 3. You might even put yourself in the other person’s shoes. (Optional.)
‘I realise it’s a task you would like a break from occasionally . . .’
‘I know you could be doing things other than driving me to soccer . . .’
‘You have to catch two buses to get here . . .’
‘Good on you for managing to be nice to every newcomer . . .’
Step 4. You might want to even add a compliment. (Optional.)
‘Thank you for cooking dinner. It was delicious.’
‘Thanks for ensuring we got there in time. Our soccer coach appreciates it.’
‘You’re good at being on time. Lots of people aren’t.’
‘Your kindness to me on my first day here is inspiring.’
Step 5. Repeat your message so it’s clear.
‘Thank you very much.’
(1) Thank you for helping me with my homework. (2) I feel far less daunted. (3) I know you have other things to do, so I do appreciate it. (4) You even make homework almost pleasurable. (5) So, thank you very much!
More tips on how we can feed our soul:
2. Say ‘Please’.
Again, this isn’t about being polite. This book isn’t about how to be nice!
3. Avoid the underminers.
If only more people avoided their underminers! What a different world it would be!
4. Be the gatekeeper.
Why does anyone watch advertisements, for goodness sake?
5. Ulysses and the Sirens.
What can we learn from sailors who filled their ears with bees’ wax?
6. Don’t cheat, don’t steal.
We all know it’s wrong to cheat and steal. But do we know why it’s wrong?