It seems (to me) that the root of unhappiness in most human relationships could probably be linked to an need for appreciation. Call it "respect", call it "gratitude", it still boils down to that simple desire to know that what you do or who you are has some value in the world.
It's easy enough to remember to say 'thank you' when you've been given something really big. The problems start when we overlook the small stuff. The miracle of finding food in the refrigerator every day; the snow being removed from the driveway. A dresser full of clean, folded clothes or plenty of wood for the fireplace. We tell ourselves that this is just all part of being married, or part of our jobs, or someone else's job. We too easily forget that the things that fade into the shadows of our daily lives may take hours of someone's precious time. Your time. My time.
One of the things I appreciate the most in my life is that I have good, reliable cars. My husband helps me keep mine up. He makes sure the snow tires get on, the repairs are made, and that it stays shiny and new-looking. He laughs at me when I thank him for it, because that's just something he enjoys doing. But I remember, all too well, what it was like to be driving an unreliable car throughout college when I could least afford the cost of repairs or a cell phone. I'd take a good, reliable car over a diamond any day.
I did some reading over the weekend about the notion of gratitude and the need for appreciation in every day life. Apparently, gratitude is a mindset that can be developed. You don't need to be a particular kind of person living a particular kind of life to be appreciative of life and the gifts others share with you. You can cultivate that attitude through thoughtful response, but it takes commitment.
The guideline I use for saying 'thank you', beyond the obvious, socially required thank you's, is this: Whenever I try to convince myself that it doesn't matter if I express my appreciation, I can be sure that it really does. The commitment comes in making sure that expression of appreciation actually happens. I fall down on this more often than I care to admit. Appreciating the small stuff is harder - it's just silly to write a thank you note for all the clean underwear in your drawer. Not as silly to write in a Christmas card how much you treasure the time and love your spouse gives to you each and every day, that often goes unnoticed.
So this Christmas week, I'm going to focus on it a little bit. There are a few people I need to get in touch with - long overdue - and a few notes I need to write. More importantly, I'm going to spend time thinking about how I can assume a posture of gratitude in my every day life, starting in 2010. I challenge you to do the same.