I talk a lot about gratitude. I mean, really, a lot. In some ways, there’s a lot of gratitude going around at the moment. I’m thinking particularly of the Clap for our Carers that so many of us have been taking part in. It really does feel like shared gratitude is bringing a country closer together, after years of division and increasing separation.
I love taking part in this and I am grateful, every day, for the wonderful NHS staff, especially since my heart operation a few years back.
Having said that, I think this might be a time to think about what we mean by gratitude. Standing outside our homes to clap is a good thing to do, as we show the people who are caring for us just how universal the admiration for their work and sacrifice is. The sheer scale of this is a huge thing, and I hope and believe that it lifts the spirits of those who are putting themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis.
It’s a scaled up version of a sincere and heartfelt thanks.
The trouble with saying thank you is that too many people stop there. They have expressed gratitude with their words, and maybe they’ve meditated on it or journaled about it as part of them trying to incorporate more gratitude into their lives, but then it’s done.
Words really can seem like enough.
But words are not enough.
We need to express our gratitude with our whole self. We need to show our gratitude not just through our words, but also through our actions. If we want to express that we are grateful, to show that we recognise and value the efforts and sacrifices someone else is making on our behalf, the very first thing we need to do is to think about them and the ways in which we can reduce their burden.
This tells the person you are grateful towards that you have considered them and their needs at a deeper level.
It’s all too easy to get this wrong.
When I’m feeling particularly grateful to my wife, it might be easy to pick up a bunch of flowers to express this, which is great in so far as it goes, but it’s not a reflection of me having thought particularly deeply and it doesn’t ease her burdens.
Really, the best way to show how much I value and respect the sacrifices she makes for me is to make some sacrifices for her. This might be to go out in the cold to scrap the ice off the car before she heads off to work or to get home early and run her a bath or put the wine onto chill when I know she has a busy or stressful day. The flowers are a nice gesture, and they certainly do make her feel appreciated (and she’s telling me now that I shouldn’t stop getting them for her), but it’s when I show my gratitude with my actions as well as my words that she really knows what she means to me.
The same is true of the NHS staff and key workers we are clapping for every week.
So please don’t stop clapping.
Please make sure that they know how much we value them.
But maybe also think about the ways in which you can ease their burden. As we are being told regularly at the moment, the most important thing we can do is to stay at home. This might not feel like much, but it really does make a difference if we are to save more lives.
The ways in which we can be of service are different for everyone, but gratitude should be something we live, not just something we say.
And I really can’t think of a better time to start.