How Do You Say Thanks?

In my role leading a global humanitarian organization, I am privileged to receive “thank yous” in many languages and many forms. There was a cow once and very large yams. I’ve received handicrafts, hats and a horse-hair whip. I have been given beautiful woven cloths, shirts, wraps, wall hangings and pictures.

Once, I received a goat. A gift from the people of a village in the West African nation of Côte d’Ivoire, it was given in appreciation for a clean water project my team had completed. We named the goat Meredith. I’m sad to report that she was later the “guest of honor” at dinner.

After Hurricane Maria, many survivors in Puerto Rico were left without access to health care. I met many patients thankful for Americares emergency programs, including the man pictured above, who we helped transport to lifesaving health services. Photo by William Vazquez.

I’ve heard “asante” (Swahili), “shukran” (Arabic), “gracias” (Spanish), “dhanyāvad” (Marathi/Nepali), “salamat” (Filipino/Tagalog), “merci” (French) and other words of genuine thanks.

As nice as all of this has been, I recognize these thanks were not really meant for me. They came from people and communities that benefited from work done by tireless and talented staff from the organizations I have led and the generous supporters who provide the resources to make the work happen. I feel very thankful, myself, to receive these expressions of gratitude on behalf of others. It is the best part of my job.

I have always believed that much flows from a thankful heart. When we are grateful for the goodness that comes to us every day, in ways big and small, it can change our outlook on the world.

That’s why Thanksgiving means so much to me. How wonderful that we pause for a national holiday every year to remember what we are thankful for, to say thanks to our family and friends, to put the trials and stresses of life in perspective by remembering for what we are grateful.

After Hurricane Maria, many survivors in Puerto Rico were left without access to health care. I met many patients thankful for Americares emergency programs, including the man pictured above, who we helped transport to lifesaving health services. Photo by William Vazquez.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen on Thanksgiving. There are plenty of stories about arguments and debates breaking out across the family dinner table. Here’s a thought: If that happens, look across the table and say to your friend or relative: “asante” or “salamat” or “merci.” Gently repeat these words of thanks until your companion stops to ask what you are saying. Then, reach back to find something about the person you are genuinely thankful for, and let them know.

You’ll feel better. And it might just change the tone of the conversation.