Sweet pumpkin lattes, the cinnamon scent of apple pie baking in the oven, leaves catching flight and lingering like a lover’s kiss before tumbling into an auburn and maroon carpet for children to crunch or swoosh aloft in a final hurrah of autumn. For North Americans, these are the signs which begin a season of giving thanks.
Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. Although it has a tradition steeped in colonialism, if we separate the day from its history, it is a day to celebrate our bounty. At least, as a Canadian, I was raised to see it this way. There is no gift giving, no hiding or distribution of candy. It is, simply, a day to recognise our good fortune and to gather with loved ones.
I am home this Thanksgiving, which is a rare treat. How will I celebrate this year? I hope to do things a little bit differently.
We are not perfect, but we are getting better at expressing our gratitude in Western culture. This whole magazine and my own ten thousand day commitment is based on the practice of expressing gratitude. But what about the flip side? Where do we hone our skills in being able to receive gratitude? Stranger still – is it possible to ask for appreciation for those things which matter to us, and from those who are dearest to us?
We know, by now, that being grateful feels good. Several studies have shown this to be the case. But equally powerful is the experience of being on the receiving end of gratitude – of being appreciated. Leadership trainers cite one of the most common and easily remedied causes of job dissatisfaction is the feeling of not being appreciated. It is a costly oversight. People perform better, are more engaged and act more cooperatively when they feel appreciated. And, if one feels appreciated during the good times, one is more likely to redouble efforts and commitment in bad times.
In intimate relationships, feeling appreciated is equally important. One of the keys to relationship success, according to American relationship counsellor and author, John Gray, is feeling appreciated – for both the big and the small things we do for one another. A lack of appreciation, and the expression of opposite emotions (criticism and contempt) has been correlated with marriage failure in studies by psychologist, John Gottman.
We all have a sense, that as adults, we are responsible for using pro-social means of getting our needs met and we are aware of the powerful impact of being appreciated, in our lives. So why is it, then, that we struggle to ask for praise, acknowledgement and appreciation?
We struggle because to ask for what we need and to beopen to receiving it puts us at risk. We expose our needs and we risk rejection. Brene Brown, leading expert in vulnerability research, admits: “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.” (Forbes, April 21, 2013)
And so, we are called to be brave, to step into the unknown and to take a risk, when we ask to be appreciated. We expose our tenderness and our wounds. But only by exposing them, without shame, can we let those wounds be healed.
I started this piece by saying that this year I would celebrate differently. In 2002, I was ordained in the Cathedral of St John the Divine, in Manhattan. My father did not attend my ordination. Every year, when we gather for Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving, he asks someone to say the blessing. It has never been me. And that has hurt me.
This may be our last Thanksgiving together, and given that I have worked to model a purposeful life of grateful living, I would like to be acknowledged for my work, and appreciated for this very significant part of my life. I have asked him to ask me to say the blessing this year. Will it happen? I don’t know. If he asks me to give the blessing, it will be wonderful. If it doesn’t happen, it will be very sad for me, but it won’t change who I am. Now is the time to heal this wound or to sew it up and move on with the scar tissue, knowing that I gave it my best and I dared to be vulnerable in order to connect with him.
So, again, I turn it over to you, dear reader.
Where in your life do you need to feel appreciated?
Where in your life are you willing to ask for it?
If you don’t know where to begin, why not begin with this 3-minute investment in a Ted talk by addictions counsellor, Laura Trice?
I wish you a wonderful season of gratitude. Please know that I appreciate your presence in my life.