We all long to feel appreciated. We want to know if other people recognize that the things we do are important. It is integral to our happiness in all of our relationships, from friendships and marriages to employers and children. And today I learned, from a very simple source, that a little gratitude goes a long way.
For the past three years, since we have lived in our current house, we have had the same garbage men. They come every Monday and Thursday to collect our waste and take it away. I cannot imagine a much more thankless and disgusting job. And yet, I must admit, that for those same three years I have harbored a slight annoyance at them – simply because they were careless about where they left our can. Sometimes it would end up down the street a bit, often several feet away from the lid. And I would always grumble about why they couldn’t just put it back on the curb. All that changed when my son became fascinated with “Dump Trucks.” From our kitchen, we can hear the truck coming around the block and for a half hour every Monday and Thursday morning, I hear the repeated exclamation, “Mommy, the DUMP TRUCK’s coming!” And as it get’s closer and louder, he says with surprising urgency, “The dump truck! I need to go see it!” And we will stop whatever we are doing, sometimes covered in breakfast, and go marching outside to see the dump truck. We wave emphatically and, because I am trying to teach my son to be polite and grateful despite the grumblings in my own mind, I tell him to say thank you loud enough for them to hear it over the din of the truck. All three of the men have come to recognize us and smile broadly as we walk out the door. The driver “beeps” his horn, and one of the collectors always waves and gives thumbs up. Today and for the past several weeks since we began thanking them, the garbage can was placed nicely on the curb with the lid on top. I never said anything to them about it. It was just a natural response to kindness. It made me wonder how often these men, who do such an amazing service for us, ever receive thanks. Of any kind. I intend to continue thanking them long after my son’s fascination wanes.
And then I began to consider all of the other unappreciated jobs that people do for us on a regular basis and how rarely we stop to thank them and make them feel like what they do is important. Too often we feel entitled to services we would never perform. Security guards at shopping centers. Check out clerks at grocery stores. People working fast food windows. Entergy service technicians working at midnight in a storm. The doctors and nurses at public clinics who even work holidays. If we wouldn’t want to do their jobs, but we utilize their services, shouldn’t we be much quicker to show gratitude? And not just to people doing jobs we don’t want to do, but also to those closer to home who do jobs we would have to do if they did not. Like a spouse’s trip to the grocery store or afternoon spent folding laundry. Or a child’s willingness to pick up their things when asked, or a colleague sharing the workload on a big project that could never be finished in time alone. I think we’d find that we would get much better service with a much bigger smile if we found small ways to regularly say thank you. And we may even make someone else’s job a bit easier and their day a bit brighter.