As my new friends in Germany and I walked out of our classroom, I looked our teacher in the eye and said, “Vielen Dank!” (Thank you very much!)
“Why do you always do that?” my friend asked in broken German. “Why do you thank the teacher every day?”
I paused … why wouldn’t I say thank you? I was a 20-something year old woman who’d just moved abroad, and that teacher was giving me the gift of a new language necessary for my immersion in Berlin. Nobody else in my class spoke English, and I certainly didn’t know any of their languages. Because of our teacher, I was making new friends, communicating with strangers, and performing everyday tasks where language was needed. Granted my German involved a lot of really awkward conjugations and arm gestures. (It still does!) But that teacher’s enthusiasm to guide my classmates and me was amazing—a treasure I’ll never forget.
“It’s her job to teach,” another friend said.
I was stunned by their perspective on gratitude. We had a lot of differences that often came down to cultural perspectives and certainly lifestyle preferences. I won’t even tell you their reaction the day I blew my nose in class!
To me, “thank you” are the most powerful and important words in our vocabulary. I’ve learned that the more gratitude we pause to celebrate, the more joyful our lives become. No one is perfect. We all struggle with worthiness. We wonder if we’re doing enough and if we’re good enough. I know I should argue that external validation shouldn’t make a difference … but it does. It matters to the person receiving it and the person expressing it. When someone pours her hearts into something—as imperfect as it may be—the gift of thanks is a wonderful treasure. We’re telling her: I see you and I appreciate you.
And by making gratitude everyday practice in our lives, we benefit, too. The ordinary moments in our lives hold all the joy. If you think about the things that make you happiest, they’re actually not the big events like your wedding day. They’re the good morning kiss or random text to say, “Hi! And we need more eggs.” When we lose those little moments, they’re what we miss most. (Here’s a perfect, beautiful example from Humans of New York.)
A gratitude practice makes you thankful for what you have, and so often, the best things are the people in our lives. I haven’t been perfect in my gratitude rituals. In fact, sometimes I’ve been the opposite of grateful. It’s easy to think we’re entitled to more and better. Maybe that’s part of being human. But I’m going to keep on trying.
My German teacher pulled me aside one afternoon. “You always say thank you to me, Katie.”
I started organizing German vocabulary in my head to explain myself, but she kept talking.
“I really appreciate it. Thank you.”
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This essay is a part of an on-going study of gratitude and joy, which all began with the creation of this gratitude journal. If you’d like to receive monthly stories that are published on Making This Home in your inbox, sign up here. If you have thoughts or stories on gratitude, please share below.