What Martha Stewart taught me about the power of gratitude

Cleaning and organizing the basement not long ago, I fittingly discovered a yellowed note from none other than Martha Stewart, dated June 28, 1994 — a few months before New York Magazine called her “the definitive American woman of our time.” Back then, I had been devotedly watching Martha Stewart Living on Sunday mornings (back-to-back with Bob Vila’s post-This Old House show, Home Again), and after one especially good episode, I sat down at my old manual typewriter and hammered out an unrestrained expression of praise. I did such things now and then and I never really expected responses. But from Martha Stewart, I got one.

The famous kitchen in Martha Stewart’s longtime Connecticut home, Turkey Hill.

When she took a moment to compose her brief message of thanks, she was, among other things, running one monthly magazine and launching another, producing the aforementioned weekly television show, making regular appearances on NBC’s Today show, and writing and editing an easy half-dozen cookbooks and entertaining guides. I was awe-struck by the letter, of course, right down to its careful valediction (“Cordially” is just so Martha). For the definitive American woman of our time, it was a simple act of kindness, but for me, it was a priceless — and lasting — lesson in graciousness, generosity, and the power of gratitude.

In her letter, which I’ve included below, Martha Stewart revealed something about herself that transcended her vaunted business sense or her commitment to proper etiquette. She showed what mattered to her. “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule,” wrote Stephen Covey, “but to schedule your priorities.” From her words, I understood that saying thank-you was a daily priority for Ms. Stewart, and in receiving her thanks, I felt as important as any one of her business associates, staff members, or family friends.

A couple of prominent psychological studies suggest that expressing gratitude can stimulate parts of the brain that make us happy. Personal experience suggests that, too. And there’s no question it can make the recipient happy. So it follows that cultivating a daily habit of giving thanks is one of life’s easiest win-win propositions. Try it. It’s a good thing.

And be sure to thank Martha.

My prized thank-you note from Martha Stewart.