I Want to Thank You

…for reading this blog; for being here, on the library’s website, for including us in your knowledge-seeking journeys, for participating in our community of library people, for sticking with me through this long-winded sentence… for trusting that I will eventually get to a point — one that will add value to your day, that will be worth the read (I will do my best); for engaging with the library’s content (We have so much to share with you!), for allowing us to be part of your lives, in ways big and small. Thank you!

When’s the last time you wrote a thank you note? Maybe it was after a gathering, to thank people for their attendance or gifts. Maybe it was for work, as was the case for Gina Hamadey, whose story starts when she was tasked with handwriting individual thank you notes to fundraiser donors. Hamadey experienced something interesting while writing those notes: “I felt hopeful, optimistic, and present — a mood that would carry into my day.” She found the process so uplifting that she didn’t stop at the end of the work assignment. Instead she made a goal: to write one thank you note every day for a year, to incorporate gratitude into her life in a lasting way. So she did! And then she wrote a book about it: “I Want to Thank You: How a Year of Gratitude Can Bring Joy and Meaning in a Disconnected World.”

“Gratitude is a strong medicine,” Hamadey writes. “It helps us see what’s there instead of pining for what’s missing.”

I wasn’t having the best day when I picked up Hamadey’s book. I have my own remedies for weird days like that, when it’s hard to get out my head. If Hamadey’s medicine is gratitude, mine is curiosity. I like to post a public poll on my Instagram story: “How are you today?” I get all kinds of responses from all kinds of people — a single cryptic emoji from my little brother; a detailed description of a morning mishap from an old college friend; a cheerful message from someone I didn’t even know was following me. Reading and responding to these messages is casually life-affirming. It’s like sending out a radio signal from a lonely planet and receiving a chorus of pings.

Hamadey seems familiar with that foggy, in-your-head feeling. She thinks it has something to do with all the time we spend on our phones. Importantly, all of her thank you notes were handwritten. Her experiment was not just about expressing gratitude; it was about doing it in a meditative, slowed-down way, in careful contrast to the noise and speed of social media scrolling.

“I had been feeling distracted, disengaged, and disconnected, and I wanted to become more focused, engaged, and connected,” she writes.

Thank yous are like apologies in that they can be transformative for both the giver and the receiver. It was interesting to read about how Hamadey felt the effects of her own thank you notes. She describes a relaxing of the shoulders and a clearing of the mind. She notices how writing a thank you note extends the afterglow of a moment of gratitude. I was moved to put pen to paper.

There are so, so many people to thank. I didn’t know where to start, so I took a cue from Hamadey. She organizes her thanking into phases: neighbors, acquaintances, old friends, family, idols and more. One of the first notes she writes is to her favorite local bookstore — a “neighbor.” As I read this section, my mind drifted to my favorite coffee shop. I had never thought of the coffee shop as a neighbor, but the title felt appropriate, considering its proximity and small, yet treasured place in my daily life. I thanked it for the sunny spot by the window, for the perfect matcha lattes, for the time a barista lent me a pen out of their own bookbag, for all the conversations that have taken place across those tables. My gratitude revealed itself to me as I wrote, and settled in like warmth.

For the rest of that week, I wrote a thank you note every day. Tuesday was for my roommate, Wednesday was for a distant friend, Thursday was for my mother, Friday was for a coworker who always makes me smile (there are a lot of those), Saturday was for a singer who inspires me, and Sunday was for the author of my favorite memoir. I haven’t delivered them yet. I’ve been carrying them around like talismans. A part of me is bracing for embarrassment — a handwritten thank you note feels so formal, maybe overly sincere. But that’s part of the magic, Hamadey says:

“It has the weight of your effort. In art, we say, ‘you can see the hand,’ which is the human effort behind something. This bears the mark of the hand.”

And anyways, anything worth expressing comes with some feeling of risk, or unknown. A thank you, an I’m sorry, a how are you today? — you never know if the person is prepared to receive it, how they want to hear it, or what kind of interaction the utterance will lead to. And yet, expressing gratitude, apologies, and curiosity are three of the most human acts there are. They are entry points; shaky first steps; radio frequencies which reach the heart.

I once had a classmate in a writing workshop who would greet people every day with a question: “What are you grateful for today?” Some days she would ask the first person she saw when she entered the room, smiling in her wheelchair. Some days she would raise her hand and ask the instructor (Mid-lecture!), and some days the entire class would answer, one at a time, in a circle. It occurs to me, now, the generosity of her question–  as much an expression of curiosity as an invitation into gratitude. Some days her question would catch me off guard. On the worst of days, it might even put me on edge, but those were also always the moments in which I most needed to recover my gratitude. I’m realizing I never said thank you. I’ll write to her next.

“Deathbed regrets are mostly stuff you didn’t do or didn’t say,” Hamadey writes. “This project has been my way of saying everything. I’m leaving a paper trail.”

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