I was always taught to behave with the right manners and to speak courteously. I ate with my mouth shut, never placed my elbows on the table, said my ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ and never interrupted.
Doing the right thing was very important and my parents prided themselves in being complimented at my manners.
What was seldom emphasised, however, was how to feel. We needed to show appreciation and we were taught how to show manners, but not how to feel towards the person to whom we were sharing those very manners. “Say please” “Say thank you” “Shake his hand”- do the right thing, but never how to ‘feel the right way’.
Appreciation should be the external manifestation of an inner reality; I show my appreciation because I feel a sense of gratitude. When I receive a kindness I should appreciate it. How to action a response to that feeling is obvious, what isn’t obvious is how to generate that feeling.
To instil our children with our core values requires that we teach them how to feel, not only how to act. And in order to teach them how to feel, we need to explain to them why they should feel that way.
In the world of positive psychology, studies internationally confirm that feeling genuine appreciation in life is the corner stone of happiness. Genuine appreciation demands that we don’t feel entitled to the gift, because as soon as we feel entitled we can no longer feel and show genuine appreciation, because we ‘deserved’ it.
Appreciation is the acknowledgment that we are dependent on others, and dependence necessitates that we accept our lack of absolute independence.
Gratitude is the conscious awareness that we need others in order to survive, both physically and emotionally. Forgoing our independence is ironically is the greatest step in our emotional and spiritual maturity. We can’t do everything by ourselves, we need others.
In this week’s Parsha the Torah commands “if you will bring a Thanksgiving Offering to God, it shall be offered willingly”.
Is it possible to give thanks unwillingly?
Yes. It’s called manners.