This weekend was the crazy busy, crazy awesome culmination to an insanely busy month. I don’t know if it’s been noticeable, but lately I’ve been trying to choose weekly blog challenges that could be completed in just one sitting because that’s all the time I’ve had to spare. I’ve been preparing for a big event at our church and just having that hanging over my head has been a psychological wall blocking me from going out of my way to get anything else done. Once the event was finally over I sat down to try to find another quick blog challenge but it was slim pickings – I’d used almost all of them up.
Then I scanned the list one more time and stopped on an item I hadn’t noticed the first time: “Thank You Notes”. It’s really embarrassing that this even had to go on the list, but the sad fact is that I’m terrible at remembering to write thank you notes. Or when I do write them, I forget to send them. Every time I clean out a closet or desk I find several unsent thank you notes from months or even years before. It’s not that I don’t feel grateful, it’s just that I’m incredibly disorganized (and lazy).
This big event was a music festival – the kind of thing that could either go really well or turn out to be a complete flop. Its success or failure depended entirely on the participation of others because how can you have a music festival without musicians? I normally have a difficult time asking others to do things and often end up taking care of most things myself just to avoid having to bug people. But this event by nature required me to beg and cajole and plead and annoy to get many, many people to help out. But after all that arm twisting we had a really big crowd and the finished product turned out to be even better than I thought it would be.
So when I saw “Thank You Notes” on my list, I knew that if ever there was a time for me to get over whatever hurdle has prevented me from writing them in the past, this was it. Actually, if I’m being honest with myself, there were many moments that should have prodded me to get my act together sooner: wedding showers, baby showers, help with moves, help with fundraisers, that time all my piano students in New York pooled together to buy us a dishwasher for our new house in Ohio, that time our friends in Ohio built a dog house for our new dog just to be nice, and on and on. I have so much to be grateful for and so many people to be grateful toward that my past laziness is inexcusable.
Lots of people helped to make the festival possible, and that doesn’t even include all of the performers. I wish I could have sent a personal note to everyone who participated, but those who didn’t get a note probably aren’t missing out on much and those who did probably won’t spend more than 30 seconds reading it before moving on with their day. And that’s okay – I think this gratitude exercise had more of an effect on me than it will on anyone else.
In the past, I considered the act of writing thank you notes as a duty, something to earn Miss Manners’ approval, and that’s probably what prevented me from being consistent. I assumed that anyone who knew me would know that I’m not one to stand on ceremony and I’m certainly not a master of etiquette. But I think I was missing the point.
I’ve read reports of research linking the expression of gratitude and happiness.I don’t have difficulty feeling gratitude in my everyday life so I thought I was doing just fine in that department. But the other night after finishing the notes, I felt so happy. Even when I had to make a dreaded late night run to Walmart, I still felt happy. Even when I got stuck waiting at a stop light three times longer than usual on my way to the post office the next day, I still felt happy. And when I passed some of the people I had just mailed notes to as I drove back home, I felt an even greater sense of love and gratitude towards them than I usually would.
We seldom write notes or letters anymore, but this week’s challenge showed me that even though I have terrible handwriting, I could still feel a lot of satisfaction in telling my friends and neighbors how much I appreciate them. It felt like a much more human form of contact, even if it was just as physically detached as (and a whole lot more slow-moving than) “texting an email,” as my youngest calls it. In fact, it felt so nice maybe I’ll even get around to writing all those thank you notes I meant to send after Christmas… in 1996.