As I have done for the past 30 years, I delivered an address on Thanksgiving Day to my family and close friends who gathered at my home to celebrate America’s secular holiday. Thanksgiving glorifies our nation as a land of opportunity, of sharing, of plenty. We come together to give thanks for our health and happiness, and for our nation’s peace and prosperity.
This year my Thanksgiving address focused on gratitude, a theme most befitting Thanksgiving, which surprisingly I had never directly tackled. Gratitude is the very essence of Thanksgiving: We acknowledge our good fortune, give thanks for our blessings, and show our appreciation for what we have and whom we love. I expressed my heartfelt gratitude to my loving wife, my dear family, my close friends, and my exceptional country.
Gratitude is the warm sense of appreciation you feel towards the giver of a kindness, which evokes your giving thanks and triggers your inclination to return kindness. But gratitude does not impose the obligation to pay it back. We often use the expression “a debt of gratitude.” Unlike indebtedness, however, there is no assumption of repayment.
Sometimes we respond to a kindness by “paying it forward,” perhaps years later, to people or institutions other than those who provided the original help. Rather than directly paying it back, we do a good deed for someone else, which may be what the original benefactor had desired, namely that kindnesses get passed along, growing exponentially.
Gratitude may seem to stand counter to our capitalist meritocracy which extols self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and self-interest. As people gain more success and status, some come to believe they have earned their good fortune, without any support or aid from others, least of all from the government. Dismissing gratitude as a virtue of the weak, these “masters of the universe” convince themselves that the benefits flowing their way are of their own making. But individual autonomy is an illusion; if we were relying on ourselves alone, we’d be much worse off. Parents, friends and institutions have enabled us to be better than we’d otherwise be.
Thanksgiving Day comes but once a year, but we all have the opportunity to practice giving thanks each and every day. Expressing gratitude can be done in many ways. Rather than tossing out a cursory “thank you” or a hastily scribbled note, take the time to compose a carefully crafted letter or deliver a thoughtful gift. Such demonstrations of thanks can be both meaningful to you and impactful to others.
As directors, we can help inculcate the virtue and value of gratitude into the culture of the companies on whose boards we serve. We can start by writing three notes of appreciation after each board meeting. These notes, for example, can provide recognition of an impressive presentation by management, acknowledgement of a fellow director’s cogent line of questioning, or thanks to the board liaison who made your travel arrangements. A note of appreciation for what they do can mean a lot. For a small investment of time, you can promote a corporate culture of gratitude, which in turn can improve the performance and enhance the happiness of both you and your colleagues.