Commit random acts of gratitude

Do you believe in convergence? Think of it as a series of random encounters with a common theme. Maybe you recognize these events as a personal message. And maybe your behavior changes as a result.

Let me start at the beginning. I recently learned about a Florida State University study that examined the power inherent in expressing gratitude. The "experimental group" (these were all romantic partners or best friends) were asked to make specific efforts to express appreciation — aloud. A "control group" was asked to recall pleasant memories but were told not to voice any appreciation. At the end of the three weeks, the people in the group that made acknowledging comments aloud rated their relationships as "stronger."

Then, later in the week I read an article saying, "True appreciation is an invitation." The phrase was in a Kansas State University Extension faculty newsletter encouraging more outright expressions of gratitude; it delineated the specific steps involved in using affirming comments, such as complimenting folks more often.

It begins with "valuing" what another person has done for you. Illustration: A woman I knew only through e-mail exchanges recently picked me up at the airport after a long cross-country flight. Not only was she there when I got off the plane on a late Sunday evening, but she had an umbrella for me — because the next day's forecast was rain and she knew I would be exposed to the elements.

"Thank you!" was my response. But I could have done it better.

For example, "Joan, I greatly appreciate your thoughtfulness. You met my plane, provided me with a possibly-needed umbrella and were incredibly gracious. I'm so thankful to you." (And it didn't rain, after all. I'm thankful for that, too.)

The reference materials on this topic suggest it's important to be both timely and authentic with expressions of gratitude — "use an engaging tone and smile when you offer up compliments."

I would add "use an 'I' message." Think about it. Let's say you encounter a friend who looks particularly fetching. You might say "I like the periwinkle-blue color of the dress you're wearing. It brings out the blue in your eyes." Or you could instead say, "You look nice." Either kind of authentically-stated acknowledgement is good, but the first one is so much better. You speak from the heart, start with "I" and dress up (so to speak) your comments a little. When gratitude is expressed well and clearly, the "giver" has a sense of self-satisfaction and the person receiving the compliment enjoys a huge boost to self-esteem.

My personal encounters with the role of well-expressed appreciation — that study, the article and the umbrella moment — was "a convergence." It made me want to offer more acknowledgments to people I care about (make that "people in general"). So I decided to spend a day acknowledging things I'd previously let pass without comment. During that day (Tuesday of last week) I pledged to say "thank you" more frequently and use individually affirming "I" messages at every opportunity. And, know what? I had an absolutely wonderful day. Want to give it a try? Oops, poor modeling. Let me re-state. "I'd be so grateful if you'd spend just one day stating heartfelt appreciation to people you care about."

Gratitude becomes you.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.

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