Say it Out Loud

I recently had big birthday. Unfortunately for my family, I’m notoriously difficult to shop for. I’m particular about my things (making buying me something a challenge), and generally have what I want and need. I’m not big on acquiring stuff. But it is a big Birthday. What to do?

My wife emailed a huge number of our friends and family, and asked them to write letter to me, and then send it to her. While her instructions were a little vague, the gist was to write a letter about why I was helpful/meaningful/appreciated. Then, for my birthday, she handed me a stack. It was a pretty interesting experience– for a lot of reasons. Here’s what happened.

First, it was a reminder that most of us do not tell the people in our lives how much we love and care about them, and how meaningful they are to us… but we should. It makes us feel good, and it makes the recipient of that information feel good too. That kind of sharing is part of what builds relationships, and allow us to feel less alone, which in turn helps us live longer. So, here is to-do number 1: right now, tell someone that you love them, care about them, or what you appreciate about them. Say it in person, send it as a text, write a quick email. It will be out of the blue– that’s ok. You can preface by blaming me, “I know this is weird, but I was reading this thing that doc wrote and…” It will take you less than a minute. Habits are built small. Start here.

This reminded me how much I do not like being the center of attention, do not like having a big deal made about me, and am generally uncomfortable receiving praise.I blushed reading letters. You ever want to see something funny, next time you see me, say something nice to me about how helpful I am, and watch me squirm or deflect. I am comfortable on a stage, will talk about things I care about– just not myself. While I’m happy to make fun of my own awkwardness and insecurity, I know for a fact I’m not the only one that feels uncomfortable with praise. So, here’s the next practice– the next time someone says something nice to you, try not to wiggle out of it. Respond with “Thank you for saying that” and then maybe “I appreciate you too.”

While it was kind of awkward, it was moving to read letter about why people love and care about me. And yet the time we usually come together to say nice things about a person is at a funeral. This is, honestly, kind of sad. Why is it that our praise and appreciation is saved for after the fact? Why do we save these kinds of thoughts and feelings for big events? This type of communication is so foreign to most of us that is hard to imagine interacting this way on a regular basis. And yet, communicating this way routinely with the people in our lives might just make us all happier and more connected.

There is a Buddhist saying, Be grateful to everyone. As a practice, it is an interesting idea, because the injunction is not reserved to people we like (the Birthday scenario). The root of the practice is to recognize that we are all dependent on each other. With practice, we can find things to appreciate and be grateful for even in people we despise. While this practice may or may not be helpful to you, how much easier is it to express our gratitude towards the people we do care about. And yet, we often do not.

So, walk into the wind on this. Say it out loud– tell the people in your life that why you care about them, how they are meaningful to you, what you appreciate about them– and see what happens. I’m interested in hearing your stories.

Cheers,

-Dr. Justin