Service of Gratitude II

March 8th, 2018

Categories: Attitude, Entitlements, Gratitude, Religion, Thanks

I’m gratified when an article in a legitimate source such as The Wall Street Journal confirms one of my observations. In this case, it’s about gratitude and how it has been lost among a large swath of people, young and old alike.

For years I’ve been part of a committed group of association members who vet applications for college and grad school scholarships—as much as $10,000 plus generous fringe benefits. I’ve often written here about the scholarships or the winners. They pass three reviews: Every application is read by two members. Those recommended for the second level are interviewed on the phone and if that conversation goes well, the student meets a committee in person where final decisions are made. The competition is stiff. Some of the high school senior through grad school students are remarkable.

This year I interviewed college seniors attending grad school and only one sent me a thank you. Last year none of the students I spoke with thanked. “So what?” say you? “Nobody thanks these days. Where have you been?” you may think. So this: If two students receive equally high recommendations to move to the third and last review and one has written a thank you as short as “tx,” and the other has not, the grateful one gets the opportunity to be interviewed in person; the other loses her chance.

But the ramifications of not expressing gratitude are far greater than missing out on a scholarship.

In “An Attitude of Gratitude,” in the Journal Jennifer Breheny Wallace wrote: “As Dr. [Richard] Weissbourd sees it, parents were fed a myth that if children feel better about themselves—if parents praise them, cater to their every need and make them feel happy—it will help them to develop character. ‘But what we’re seeing in many cases is the opposite: When parents organize their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to as well, and that leads to entitlement,’ he says. And when children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.” Weissbourd, a psychologist, is faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

“Researchers find that people with a grateful disposition are more thankful for a wider variety of things in their lives, such as their friends, their health, nature, their jobs or a higher power—and that they experience feelings of gratitude more intensely. For them, gratitude isn’t a one-off ‘thank you.’ It’s a mind-set, a way of seeing the world.”

John Wyeth

This approach reminds me of the award for niceness instituted at the Harlem Link Charter School named to honor the memory of John Wyeth who had worked there for a decade and who was the epitome of the award. I wrote about it a year ago.

Wallace also included observations of David Rosmarin, director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He mentioned how gratitude takes a place in most world religions.

I attended a memorable Bar Mitzvah service many years ago in which our friend’s son Julian told the congregation about his good deed that was part of his Bar Mitzvah preparation. He described making sandwiches to offer homeless men and women in Newark, N.J. and how hard it was to get out of his father’s car when they arrived in the city and what it was like to approach and speak with the destitute people he met.

Helping less fortunate people became a turning point for one family in the article. The floors in a house that one of the children helped to restore as a volunteer were in such bad shape you could stand in the home and see through to the ground. When this child returned home “she got down and hugged the floor and said, ‘I’ve never been grateful for a floor, but now I am.’”

Wrote Wallace: “The researchers found, in keeping with past studies, that general gratitude was associated with less anxiety, less depression and greater well-being. They also found that religious gratitude—toward God—was associated with additional reductions in anxiety and depression and increases in well-being.”

It’s never too late to teach gratitude to a child and Wallace noted the obvious: The most effective way is for parents to practice what they want a child to do such as thanking when junior takes out the garbage or holds open a door.

Wallace wrote that parents can “spur their children to appreciate and reflect on the time and thought behind the gifts and kindness they receive, as in: ‘Jack really knows how much you love football. How thoughtful that he gave you a jersey of your favorite team’ or ‘Wow, Grandma just took a five-hour train ride to come and see you perform in that play.’”

Do you think expressing gratitude eventually leads to feeling it and that it really has positive effects? Does a person—parent, boss or client–appear to be weak if they thank which is why they don’t do it? Do you know anyone who never thanked and then suddenly began to? Do you have examples of someone who expressed gratitude to you that bowled you over?

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12 Responses to “Service of Gratitude II”

  1. Anonymous Said:

    Dr. Spock wrote a book on bringing up a child in a progressive way. No discipline, etc. His son took his own life. People turn their brats loose in public and we are fed up with it. The kids down the hall from us scream through the hall without a word of discipline from their parents. We are about to turn them in to the board. You also see it on the train.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There seems to have been a shift from “Do unto others….” to “Do your own thing, forget the impact on others.”

    I’ve noticed on the train that most parents or guardians shove tablets or phones in a child’s hands and the kids entertain themselves. It’s unusual to hear conversation between them. Should they speak loudly for an extended period, some grownups ask their child to shhhhhh, but many don’t.

    On the street, people pushing carriages are on the phone and not chatting with the child they’re driving, to point out curiosities as they stroll by a fun store window or see an unusual car drive by. Missed opportunities to teach anything….no wonder gratitude ends on the cutting room floor.

  3. Lucan Said:

    After reading your thoughtful comments about modern-day gratitude, two thoughts came to mind: first, President George Bush, Senior’s appeal twenty years ago for a kinder, gentler society, and second, how different today’s world is from the one in which I grew up.

    Demographics explain some, but not all of the change, but just as important are the consequences of two parent working families, the diminishing participation of women in the parenting function, the decline in the timing and volume of heterosexual marriages, the half-century or more entertainment industry bombardment of both youth and mature markets with positive depictions of power and violence, the greed and cruelty of unrestrained capitalism, messianic religion, and… I could go on, but I think the point is made.

    Unfortunately, just as President Bush’s appeal got him no place, your quest for greater gratitude acknowledgement is not likely to be fulfilled. Fortunately, this does not mean that people are not grateful, just that society no longer expects “thank you’s” to be handed out.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    While I fear I agree with you, there are examples that give me hope. Take the 19th Century Arts & Crafts movement that promoted work by hand vs. that by the machines of the Industrial Revolution, fighting a tide for sure. So I won’t give up. I suppose that eventually no students will write “tx” or any form of thank you note and the organization will nevertheless want to give scholarships…so this won’t matter anymore.

    We live like sardines; we need something to sand the edges of tough days at work or bad news from Washington. A simple, “thank you,” when a stranger holds the elevator door for you in your apartment house makes for a pleasant ride. A saunter in, followed by a dive into a nose-in-iPhone stance, doesn’t hack it. It makes a city that is lonely for many, more isolating.

    A worry for those in charge of educating and bringing up children is to make kids too polite in a tough world where this approach may be conceived as weakness and reflect servitude. We see who wins these days, whom the press likes to cover. He’s in the White House.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Failure to thank shows not only weakness, but poor judgment, poor upbringing or both. Listening to so called pundits giving instructions on how to raise children also brings questionable results. What happened to common sense, which starts with getting to know each child and acting accordingly?

    One size fits all advice is one road to disaster, often preventing parents from enjoying and understanding their children. Worse yet, parents, who are also voters, have not succeeded in throwing government out of the home, as in behavioral strictures on drinking and entertainment.

    It was difficult not to smile at the first President Bush’s lament. It was similar to that made by Socrates some two thousand years ago, and will probably be made by one of those who both the former President and writer Lucas criticize today.

    My advice: Lighten up gentlemen, and enjoy todays young people! Stop that whining and encourage them to succeed. If you fail to see the good in most, then perhaps it’s you and not the young who need to change!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I enjoy speaking with the students and hope they don’t change a whisker but it’s no skin off my nose if they don’t get a $10,000 scholarship because they can’t be bothered to realize that the volunteers who interview them owe them nothing and should be recognized for their time in the currently traditional way–by jotting a quick thank you email. It is basic business etiquette. You go for an interview for a job–and more and more take place on the phone–you thank afterwards. If as college seniors they haven’t yet learned this, then we can’t help them.

    This isn’t about seeing the good or bad in anyone, it’s about becoming a person whom others want around. It helps if a kid applies for a job or to make friends to be aware of others. And if the studies are accurate that show that being grateful helps against depression and anxiety, who wouldn’t want this for their child? If parents aren’t polite to their children, how will the children know how to act? It doesn’t matter the personality of a child, given that the child has no mental disabilities, he/she can observe what goes on around them. People aren’t, nor were they ever, born with recognizing what others do for them. An entitled approach, which a lack of gratitude reflects, endears a person to nobody.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am constantly distressed by rudeness, pushy behavior, stepping over others in line, failure to acknowledge a thoughtful or generous gesture. I wonder how the individual or individuals behaving in this fashion were raised, and what occupies the mind of these totally self-centered people.

    If we were referring to people grappling with desperate needs for immediate survival like refugees who have managed to survive a harrowing escape, I could allow for their desperation overriding niceties. However, there seems to be no doubt that in our predominant and current mainstream American culture everyone and his or her preferably immediate satisfaction has taken its toll on multigenerational groups of people.

    This oppressive and essentially belligerent behavior is a product of more than one generation .It is as much a result of seemingly devoted, but very self-centered parents who consider their off-spring’s requirements, happiness and success to be gratified at the expense of anyone or anything that could pose the slightest obstacle. The desire to ensure the sense of security and happiness of your off-spring only ,something that the outer world cannot provide is as egotistical as the child who is the end product of such conditioning. This is also obnoxious. Actually several generations are perpetuating an ungracious, polemic culture which can only lead to increased general frustration and anger.

    It means as you indicate also that the ability to appreciate, share, help, enjoy and even trouble shoot remain undeveloped. Doesn’t this eventually translate into a more aggressive and even conflict based society. We certainly don’t see any charm emanating from our leaders, our diplomats or our youth and our lives are consequently often drab and irritating. If all activities are only concerned with the self, they must be accompanied by a sense of detachment and loneliness or perhaps even become distorted to the point of causing markedly antisocial behavior.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There are fads in bringing up kids and one was to never say “no” to a child. Today’s trend that seems not to recognize that the precious offspring doesn’t go through life alone and had best learn how to deal with that–and with others–is a close second.

    What parent doesn’t look for that flicker of excellence in his/her child? I get that. My Dad wanted me to be a great ice skater so for years my mother took me to a private ice skating club where the stars were born and where I performed in a lackluster way. My parents tried piano lessons. “Maybe she should be a fashion designer,” crossed their minds–but I can’t draw a stick figure and would not have survived the toughness of that industry. But all the while they encouraged and tried to squeeze out the best in me, I was often reminded that “the tail doesn’t wag the dog.”

  9. Martin Johnson Said:

    Martin wrote on Facebook: Solipsistic, entitled children are made, not born and reoccurs in old age with too much senior self interest. They become the protagonists of their own maudlin drama. Have you noticed that few people ask questions; instead tell you all about themselves? Wonderful comment, Jeannie!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I had to look up solipsistic, the perfect word.

    Didn’t occur but you are right that some older people become self-absorbed. If alone 24/7 with TV, computer or radio for company, you can see how that might happen. I think another impetus is that older people often have a lot of wisdom to share–not that anyone wants to hear it–and not much time in which to share it.

  11. Deirdre Said:

    Thank you, Jeanne, for including the nicest person ever: John Wyeth. He left a legacy of niceness, and made the world a better place.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Many are grateful to John for his encouragement, creativity and decency–the students and his music and other friends and most of all his family. At his memorial I loved seeing the videos of the plays he wrote and directed.

    It’s his birthday this week: We’ll raise a glass.

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