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The Thank-You Challenge: How Random Moments of Gratitude Can Help You Lead a Kinder Life

Hoooooonk. Hoooooonk.

It was 6 am and I was less than thrilled to be awakened by loud honking rather than my soothing alarm. “Why the hell is someone honking at this hour?” I thought as I angrily rolled out of bed and stormed down the hallway to peek out the window. On that short walk down the hallway, my mind was racing with unkind thoughts about the unknown driver who was rudely waking me up.

I peered through the window and gasped: Crap, it’s garbage day! I had forgotten to put my trash can out at the end of the driveway. My garbage was already overflowing, and I just couldn’t afford to go a week without having it emptied! The garbageman was honking as a reminder to me. He wasn’t being rude at all — he was saving the day, actually. I rushed to take off my robe and put on some clothes before he drove away without my garbage! When I finally ran outside and rolled my garbage down the driveway, I simply couldn’t thank the honking driver enough. “I owe you big time,” I said as I waved and walked inside, feeling as though I was the luckiest woman on the block.

I went right to my computer and typed up an email to Paine’s, the company for whom the driver works:

“Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to the amazing garbage truck driver who was kind enough to wait for me to bring my trash out this a.m. when I had forgotten. It is a small touch of fantastic customer service, but really appreciated. Had I missed the garbage today, I would have been annoyed and started my day on the wrong foot. It is rare to find people going above and beyond these days and with a great, big smile, so good job to you guys and the driver and many thanks from me!”

As it turns out, I was practicing gratitude. I had recently made a conscious decision to be more grateful and I made a plan to express gratitude more regularly in my life. This interaction with the garbage man was the perfect opportunity for me to put gratitude first, and so I practiced it with my early morning thank-you email. My day had taken a quick turn for the better! Writing that email put a smile on my face and kept my focus on gratitude and appreciation. Gratitude is a powerful tool, and it is something you can indeed practice in life. It is a choice, and it can be cultivated, practiced, and nurtured. 

Here are a few simple ways to adopt the practice of gratitude in your daily life:

Seek It

Look around and ask yourself, who can I thank today? Is there someone at the local coffeeshop who welcomes you with a smile every morning? Is there one person at work who always brightens your day or who always brews the fresh pot of coffee after lunch for all to enjoy? Chances are, if you look hard enough, you will find many people to thank throughout your day.

Part of practicing gratitude is consciously seeking it — otherwise, you may overlook the driver on the highway who slows down to let you cut in front of him, thus missing the opportunity to send him a friendly thank-you wave. If you are looking for things to be grateful for, there’s no doubt that you will find them. Be intentional with it each and every day. It will eventually become a way of life, and what a great one it will be!

Speak It

Once you have found a person or a thing for which you are grateful, speak it out loud. Say thank you to the barista who always remembers your drink order, or better yet, give her an actual handwritten thank-you note. Will it surprise her? Heck yeah it will! The art of the thank you note has been lost in the days of texts and emails, but how wonderful it is to receive an unexpected surprise! When you bring a smile to another’s face by expressing your gratitude, soak it in. It will spark in you a warm and fuzzy feeling that will linger throughout the day.

Be It

Become someone who others will thank. Help others every chance you get simply because it is the right thing to do. Pick up the trash in the hallway, say yes when a coworker asks you to do something that isn’t necessarily your job, and maybe even pay for the person in the car behind you at the drive-thru. Be a source of light and kindness for others.

Ideally, you will get your due thanks, but sometimes your kind gestures will go unnoticed — and that is OK. Why? Because you, my friend, will be grateful that you are able to help others. With a world that people are so quick to call mean and ugly, rise above and do thank-you-worthy things.

Study It

John Kralik is the author of a book titled 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life. In his honest and beautiful memoir, he documents the year he set out to write one thank-you note every single day for the entire year. He started out the year quite miserably, but with each handwritten thank-you note, he smiled brighter, appreciated more, and became happier and more fulfilled. He sought gratitude every day, he expressed it, and he became a better person because of it. In turn, his life improved tremendously.

Some days, he didn’t know who he would thank, but his eyes remained opened and he always found a recipient for his daily thank-you note. His messages were sincere, heartfelt, and always written by hand. Not only did this practice improve his mood each day, he also brightened the lives of 365 other people in one year. Observe others, read about gratitude, and study the impact it has on the lives of others. It is powerful, contagious, and as John Kralik demonstrates, life-changing.

After I sent the email regarding my thoughtful garbageman, I received a response from his boss, expressing her gratitude to me for taking the time out of my busy morning to write a quick note of appreciation. Her words were heartfelt, kind and sincere and left me wondering: Should I send her another thank-you email for writing me such a kind email?

I spent most of that day smiling because my garbageman rocks and saved my morning — but also because I’d chosen to stay in gratitude and write that email, and because someone else appreciated me, too. This is the power of gratitude and the power of kindness. One unassuming, random act of kindness spiraled into making three different people very happy on this particular day, and for that, I am truly grateful. Now, I can’t wait to see who I have the pleasure of thanking tomorrow.

This post was written by Suzanne Hayes.

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