When I was in elementary school, my dad worked as a salesman for a wholesale company that provided sundry items to mostly small town drugstores. Occasionally he would take me on the road with him.
One day, at a store in Hogansville, GA, an aging farmer came in; he was dressed in overalls, with muddy boots on his feet and a fraying straw hat atop his balding head. He was chomping an unlit cigar. As soon as he closed the door behind him, before the bell attached to it had stopped ringing, he announced that he had come in search of a single thank you note. The high school girl behind the soda fountain told him that thank you notes came in boxes of 10. Looking toward the back of the store, in the direction of the pharmacist, he said loudly, “Would-ya break open a box and sell me just one? Can’t use ten. My wife told me I got to send a note to my granddaughter, but this late in life I ain’t aimin’ to make a habit out-a thankin’ folks.”
I’ve learned that we miss-out on a lot of life’s joy when we don’t make a habit of being thankful. Gratitude enlarges our hearts and expands our awareness. It keeps our eyes open to a wonderfully humbling truth: we are dependent for our very lives on the work and kindness of other people and on the faithfulness and generosity of God.
The routinely ungrateful do not see and feel the hands which nurture and sustain their lives. They believe themselves to be self-made and self-sufficient, independent and not indebted. Their ingratitude distorts their perception of the world around them and skews their image of themselves. Thankfulness, on the other hand, enhances the kind of sight that leads to insight, improves hearing so that it becomes listening, and heightens intuition so that it is raised to the level of wisdom.
One of the twentieth century’s wisest voices belonged to a remarkable rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel. He said: “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation.”
We cultivate wonder and open ourselves to joy with the simple but profound practice of appreciation—the habit of thankfulness. The old gospel hymn got it right, I think: “Count your blessings; name them one by one.”