Updated: Jun 18
Are there people in your life who, at one period of time in that life, meant something to you when you needed a boost or help or comfort? Those helpers could include a neighbor, teacher, professor, mentor, boss, a friend of your parents, coach, the owner of an animal you loved, roommate, childhood friend, teammate, random distant relatives, and so many others. Memories of them and how they helped you pop into your mind, sometimes regularly or, more likely, occasionally, and when they do, you feel deep gratitude.
When you remember, take a minute to reach out and tell them. You can bet that the people who cared about you and invested time and energy in helping still regularly think about you fondly, pray for you if they are religious, and wish you the best. If you were a child when they helped you, their fondness is even more likely to remain because I have found that if I loved someone when they were a child, I am more likely to love them forever.
People who help others don’t do it for the thanks, but they still enjoy thanks and knowing that their kindness was appreciated. In offering thanks, you aren’t seeking to re-open friendships or go back to that time. Like being in the wedding of a childhood friend with whom you now have little in common, you are honoring history rather than trying to continue the same connection you had at a different time. How delighted I have been over the years when former students, elderly people (or their children who found my letters to their deceased parents), neighbors, children of my friends, and even an ex-boyfriend of my daughter texted or emailed me to tell me thank you for having been there for them. Those remembrances made me so happy. It matters!
No Need for Perfection, Length, or Dramatic Gestures
I suspect that many thank you’s are delayed or never offered because the grateful person wants to make a grand gesture that convincingly conveys the deep gratefulness they feel. Folks don’t send anything because they are waiting to send the perfect thing. Don’t wait! A “thinking of you” text you send is infinitely better than the well-crafted, two-page letter you are composing in your head but is never perfect enough to actually send.
What if you can’t think of anything “good enough” or original enough to say? Don’t worry – platitudes are fine. What can you say to a 7-year survivor of pancreatic cancer when all the cancer trials are on hold for Covid 19? To an MS victim suffering yet another bout of misery and back on high doses of prednisone? To the ardent teenager whose girlfriend just dumped him? The platitude of all platitudes, a heartfelt “I’m so sorry”, is about the best you can do. But it is crucial that you say those words so that the sufferer knows you care.
Same with saying thank you. If your heart is full of gratitude but your texting finger is dry, it’s always better to send something “lame” than send nothing at all. How about “Thanks for being there for me; I think of you often and appreciate all your help”? If that’s too corny, a good old “Thinking of you” works fine.
Rinse and Repeat
Once you start, continue. Do it more than once! Maybe pick a day that has significance to the two of you: an important football game of your favorite teams, the release of a new Shirley Jackson biography, National Donut Day. Or, depending on gender, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day work great too. Even if all the helper did was feed you once a week during your college years and let you do your laundry there, that’s a parental function and you can use the sentiments of those like-a-mother or like-a-father cards to show your love and appreciation. The boosting power of being randomly thought of by someone from the past and contacted with that memory can’t be underestimated; the person who helped you will be buoyed and cheered by hearing from you.
The General Thank You
I can’t write this article without throwing in a quick reminder of the requisite immediate thank you for any direct help or services rendered. In other words, if someone helps you or does something for you, say thank you right away. It doesn’t need to be a long, obsequious, belabored thank you, but it needs to be uttered or written. In the Business Communications classes I teach, saying thank you is part of a lesson that is important for students to learn. For example, if you ask for an extension on an assignment, shoot back a “thank-you” email. Same if your professor looks at a paper before the due date and suggests ways to improve your grade. At school and pretty much anywhere, if you take help but don’t send thanks, the helper is going to become less and less likely to continue to offer you help.
Evidently, people are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years … you can help the people who helped you by remembering them and saying thanks.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor, and financial literacy educator has written numerous articles and several books including the “11-Step, DIY, Comprehensive Financial Plan Workbook” and “Financial Advice for Blue Collar America.” She works to help clients and readers understand and act on complex financial information to keep them and their money safe. She functions as a strong advocate and guiding light for her clients as they move through murky and unfamiliar financial and career worlds. Read more at her website.