The other day I heard a grandmother talking about her teenage grandchildren. It had been a long-time habit of this grandmother to send birthday checks to her children and their children on those special days. After years and years of this gift giving, she decided to stop because no one said Thank You anymore. The birthday card and check had become so routine, so expected, that the obligatory and kind response of thanks had been forgotten.
Having been a recipient of checks like these from my own grandmother, I was horrified at the reality. I was raised at a time when mandatory 'thank you notes' were common courtesy. Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, any gift followed with a handwritten thank you. As a teen I remember vividly wishing my distant relatives would forget to send me that handmade red Christmas sweater with the large buttons on the front so I would be saved from writing a Thank You note full of insincerity.
But now I found that I had also skipped sending the note for checks and cards that came as well. I no longer urged my own children to write the 'thank you' note in the age of emails and cell phones, instead I might remind them to call or text a thank-you in response.
We were all remiss in expressing our gratitude to Grandma.
I am guessing that I am not alone. The art of saying Thank You and how we do it is changing in this paperless age. Thank-you notes still arrive after dinner parties, weddings, and baby showers but, for many of us, they've fallen by the wayside for Christmas and Birthdays - especially to those most closest to us.
This grandma's experience reminded me of the importance of remembering to act with gratitude and kindness particularly to those whom we love most, the ones whose love we sometimes take 'for granted', the ones whose love we are most assured.
It is much easier to remember to say thank you to a stranger's act of kindness than that of a loved one just because it is so out of the ordinary, so novel. But the little actions our loved ones do to help perhaps need our greatest attention, because they are so easily missed against a backdrop of constant giving and sharing.
Habits readily lead to 'taking things for granted' and we often forget to notice such kindness until it is no longer available.
Rather than wait to detect these small acts of kindness from your loved ones when they are no longer around, make every effort to do so today. And remember to express your gratitude for every instance - with a smile, a hug, a word of thanks or even a Thank-you note. There is no time like the present to acknowledge all the gifts of kindness you may be given today. Tomorrow it may be too late.
Follow Susan Smalley, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/suesmalley