I love my car and home insurance company, which is weird.
Insurance companies are, generally, frustrating. More often than not, they’re the source of headaches and woes and all sorts of complaints from consumers. But my insurance company – or at least the local office I deal with – has differed from the norm.
When I call with a question, they answer it with supernatural speed. They often go above and beyond to make sure that I have everything I need – and once, a local worker worked past her office hours to make sure that I had the home insurance estimate I hadn’t realized I needed by the next morning. They remember small details about my account without having to look it up. They joke. They don’t pressure us to buy things we don’t need or want.
For this reason, the last time I was on the phone with one of the office workers about a recent policy change, I thought to mention it. As we were getting ready to finish up the call, I said, “Hey, by the way, I just wanted to say–you guys are great. Everyone there has always been so helpful and it’s just a joy to call, never a bad experience. Thanks a lot.”
The staffer offered a cheerful “oh, you’re welcome!” but in the email she sent me with more information on the policy change, she wrote an additional note at the bottom: “Thanks again for the words on the phone! It’s so nice to hear that and it made my whole day!”
I was surprised to realize that my comment had meant something to her. But then I thought about how delighted my mailman had been when I left a little package for him, made by my mother’s church, in the mailbox for “International Mail Person Day.” And about the smile on the face of the random worker I stopped to thank and praise at the Atlanta Airport when he helped with our bags. It made me think that I – and likely we – could stand to be better at gratitude.
I don’t mean thanking people. Most of us thank people. I thank people all the time: the cashier at Kroger, my mom, my husband, the insurance people, the mailman, my students, everybody. Saying “thank you” is a reflex and it is easy. And while people might miss it if I didn’t say it, it is also the literal bare minimum of what I can do to express gratitude. It has about the same impact of asking “Hey, how’re you?” as you breeze by someone on your way to lunch.
What takes longer – what requires more of me emotionally and in terms of my time – is to stop in the middle of my tasks and give gratitude beyond thank you. To call the store or the insurance company and commend an employee who was particularly helpful. To write a note to the mailman. To refrain from grabbing my food and taking off but smiling instead and saying to the cashier, “You’re so polite every time I’m here. You’re doing a great job.” To give an extravagant tip. To send an email. To really see people.
It’s easy to complain. It’s also easy to hustle out a quick “thank you” that means nothing and does nothing and go on your way. The problem is that it’s easy to feel self-congratulatory when we do that, as though offering the bare minimum of gratitude is accomplishing something.
In our current culture, seeing people – seeing individuals, recognizing them as people, recognizing them as loved by God, as unique, as special – is something a lot of us, even believers, don’t have time for. It is also the one thing that, when we do it, often leaves a fundamental impression on others – more than money, more than gifts, more than even certain specific acts of service.
So let me encourage you to start a practice of going beyond thanks. Look for opportunities to give praise, to appreciate, to offer warmth to people. Commend people where you can to their supervisors or their places of employment. Write notes of appreciation, or take five extra seconds at the end of a call to make a particular thoughtful comment. And this goes for people in your day to day life, too!
The cool thing? It’s fun to do. It really is a joy. And once you start, you’ll be looking for opportunities to do it everywhere.
So go beyond thanks. It’s a small but effective way of acknowledging others.