Yes, he thought big thoughts, but that's not what I am really talking about here.
What I am really talking about here is his thoughtfulness that made others happy.
Speaking of big thoughts, though, you can tell I am on a bit of a "big thoughts" bent with my "How Self Aware Are You...Really?" post of a couple of weeks ago and now this one. I think I will do one on "Mindfulness" next to make a sort of "Happiness Trilogy," because, in my opinion, those three concepts - Self-Awareness, Thoughtfulness and Mindfulness - make up the three most important traits to lead to personal happiness and the happiness of those around you.
But anyway, back to my Dad.
(That's my nephew photo bombing my Dad's picture before anyone knew what photo bombing was!)
He was a deep thinker and endlessly curious. I would come staggering home at 2am after a night of doing stuff I wasn't supposed to, and my Dad would be up. My mother tried to impose a curfew on me, but based on how disrespectful my older brother was to her, I, too, pushed the limits of her patience. Unfortunately, my Dad and Mom did not present a united front so when she and I got into a fight about when I was supposed to be home, she left it to my Dad who eventually said to me, "Can you be home by 2am?" I thought for a minute (not really. I didn't think at all). I immediately said, "Sure, I can do that."
So back to my story.
I would come teetering in at 2am and there my Dad would be working on his lesson. He was a Christian Scientist and they have readings, also known as "lessons," that they are supposed to do every day. He was up late doing that, because my Dad was also a guy who always had several jobs. There was his regular job, the one where he gave his paycheck to my Mom to run the household, and then there were his other part-time jobs where the money he earned from those was his to spend on his gun collection, cars, trumpets, whatever he was into at the time.
My Dad was also a night owl, so he would come home from his part-time extra job, probably have a snack (he used to love Ritz crackers and cheese and to amuse me he would line them up on the edge of the kitchen counter and then flick them one by one off the counter and into his mouth and then laugh), watch a little TV and then do his lesson. So it was not unusual for him to be up at 2am, even though he had to be at his regular job by 8am the next morning, and in summer, when school was out, it was not unusual for me to come home that late. Hey, I was a kid with a kid's agenda!
When I would arrive home smelling of smoke ("Oh, no, I don't smoke but some of my friends do. Must have gotten on my clothes from them!"), and god knows what else, my Dad and I would invariably get into a discussion about religion or something I was interested in at the moment. Though he had strong opinions about things, he was also very curious about what other people thought.
But anyway, long story short, that's not the kind of thoughtfulness I am talking about here. I am talking about those little things we do that show we care about other people's feelings and that we are thinking of them.
My Dad was the most thoughtful person I have ever met, and I like to think that I am also a thoughtful person. If so, I learned from the Master.
For example, if I gave my Dad a present, such as a shirt or a tie, he would be sure to wear it the next day to show me that he liked it. Weeks or months later, he would remind me of how much he liked that shirt or tie by saying so or sending me a picture of him wearing it.
(Here he is showing off the BBQ apron sent to him by his granddaughter. He always wanted to be a cowboy. Don't you love the oven mitt? It's a gun!)
He also would remember what I liked.
If we were "window-shopping," a favorite past-time for middle-class families in the 50's and 60's when we actually had department stores downtown in our smaller towns, and I pointed out something l really liked, it would show up later as a birthday present or special surprise.
(He bought me that coat, hat and muff back in 1968 before we were enlightened about fur - I think he bought me that pink princess phone too!).
One time when my parents went on their usual Sunday drive, and I was old enough to be left home alone (because I HATED those Sunday drives), I decided to make them a special surprise dinner to have ready for them when they got home. I was probably eleven or twelve. I went through my mother's cookbooks and found some recipes that looked like I could manage them and made a three course meal complete with fancy silverware and cloth napkins. I think I made something like baked eggs with spam as a starter, fish sticks for the main course and Jello for dessert. Whatever, it wasn't very good, but my parents were surprised and ate it with relish (or pretended to). Later, I found a $5.00 "tip" under my Dad's napkin.
When I was sick, he would come home from work, sit on the edge of my bed and ask me what I needed. In a sad little squeaky voice, as pitiful as I could manage, I would say, "A milkshake" and he would either make me one or go down to Miller's Ice Cream and get me one.
I would also get these late night yearnings for a snack when my Dad and I were watching TV together, "but I didn't know what I wanted." My Dad would quiz me and I would say, "No, not that. No, not that," so then he would whip up something that he would make up and it would be just right, not so much because that was just the thing I wanted but because even as a young girl, I knew he was taking the time and trouble to make me happy.
That, to me, is what thoughtfulness really is.
It's taking the time and trouble to do something nice for someone else, and it's also acknowledging, after the fact, when someone does something nice for you.
How often do we go out of our way for others? How often do we break a sweat and mess up our schedules to help someone or just to do something to make them happy? And how often do we acknowledge it when someone does that for us?
Now I know you could make a case that I was one spoiled little girl, and in some ways, I guess I was. But my Dad enjoyed making people happy, and I got that. I grew up to be a person who wanted to emulate that thoughtfulness. I never took any of it for granted. I wanted to be like him.
You can imagine my shock, though, when I left home and discovered that not everyone was as thoughtful as my Dad!
So as I ponder this whole issue of thoughtfulness, I have come up with some ways to be thoughtful (feel free to add your own):
- After a party or dinner at a friends house, it's thoughtful to call, email (or heaven forbid) write a thank-you note to thank your host for a lovely time.
- If you stay at a friend's house, it's thoughtful to come bearing gifts or splurge on a nice meal (or both) and write a heart-felt email or (there it is again) thank-you note when you get home.
- Likewise, if friends stay with you, hopefully you have a room they can stay in. It's thoughtful to have the same amenities in the room that they might find in a hotel (without the room charge, of course!) - along with the clean linens and towels, bottled water, some snacks, robes, a place to hang their clothes, scented candle, anything you think would make them feel at home.
- Remembering someone's birthday is a given, but birthday and Valentine's cards are almost a thing of the past as are Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other holiday where once sending a greeting card was common. I know many of us castigate the greeting card world for its commerciality, but I know I love receiving cards from friends and loved ones reminding me they are out there and thinking of me.
- And it is especially thoughtful to write something heartfelt and personal on the card. When I send out Christmas cards, I eschew the practice of bringing everyone up-to-date on the accomplishments of my family, but rather, I remind that person of a happy time we have had together or what that person has meant to me. Likewise with birthday cards.
- The same goes for presents. It's easy for us to get our presents from Amazon and that's fine. But it's also a bit impersonal. It's not like the old days when we went downtown and shopped for just the right thing. Now we can choose something online and with one-click it's on it's way. We're done. But adding a personal note takes away the impersonal aspect and reminds our friends and loved ones that we are thinking of them in a very personal way.
- And when you receive a present, it's thoughtful to not only thank the sender right after you receive the gift, but it makes the person feel really good when you thank him or her later. "You know, I really love that sweater you gave me for my birthday last year. I wear it all of the time."
But thoughtfulness doesn't just pertain to gifts and cards.
It's keeping up with the details of the lives of your friends and family and following up: "How did that test go?" - "How is your mother doing?" - "Did you really kill your boss?"
When you know someone is having a hard time, it's human nature to not know what to do and to not talk about it. However, we all want to be acknowledged and even saying something comforting can be thoughtful. If you can do more, then do more. Reaching out is probably the most thoughtful thing we can do...and sometimes the hardest.
My Dad used to say that you show love when you do something you don't really want to do, but you do it anyway and expect nothing in return.
I think that also falls into the thoughtfulness category.
Being thoughtful is something the animals can't do. It's a human thing. We are all capable of it. But we often don't do it because our lives are hectic, and let's face it, being thoughtful takes time and effort. It takes work!
But what we maybe don't realize is that it doesn't take much to show thoughtfulness and that little thing might just be the little thing that someone needs to make his or her day: getting an unexpected thank you note, getting an unexpected phone call or email that says "I was just thinking about you" or sending someone a little gift "just because." Those things make people happy and when people are happy it's a better world out there. (I recently received a hand-written thank you note for a small spontaneous gift I had given a friend. It made my day).
We have the opportunity for little acts of thoughtfulness every day.
Holding the door open at the mall for a woman with a stroller; helping someone with their bags at the supermarket; babysitting so our friend or loved one can have a break; taking someone to the airport; picking up the check at lunch; emptying the dishwasher without being asked, so your wife doesn't have to (thanks, Hubby); not giving the finger to someone who cuts us off in traffic.
It's all about being aware of what's going on around us and seeing the opportunity to do something thoughtful.
Years ago, when I was all alone at Victoria Station on my first trip to London hauling a couple of huge suitcases down some stairs to catch a train (this was before I got the message about traveling with huge suitcases), a young woman saw that I was struggling and anxious and grabbed one of my suitcases and helped me onto the train. She didn't make a big deal out of it. She helped me and then took her seat. But I have never forgotten her.
Another time when my marriage was falling apart and I was at the airport traveling back to my parents' house with my barely two-year-old son, it was obvious I was having a hard time managing him and my bags and a woman carried my bag and accompanied me to my gate. And on the plane my son's seat was my lap. The passengers around us could tell I was in bad shape and played endless games of "high fiving" with my son as he ran up and down the aisle. I know, I was one of those passengers with a kid which goes to show, you never know what hell someone might be going through. I have never forgotten those people and those acts of kindness.
One last thing and, hang on, it's a bit of a rant. Hey, it's Tuesday. That's what I do.
Being thoughtful also means being thoughtful before we tear into someone.
I know we all observe things and have stuff happen to us that makes us want to vent and to tell people off, but when we do that, how is that really helping anything? It might make us feel better for the moment, but in the end, is it making the world a better place? If it is done constructively, yes, we have the power to change things, but sadly, most of us don't think of constructive criticism when we are angry. Things can escalate quickly into a sad drama.
And when we feel the need to correct our friends and loved ones by venting, we run the risk of losing those relationships. Is it really worth it to make our points?
I know we live hectic, crazy lives, but being thoughtful of others speaks to our highest selves. If we lose that, we lose the best part of what makes us human.
If you need an incentive, think of this: What a wonderful world it would be if everyone was looking for opportunities to be thoughtful.
And that's the reason I wrote this blog post.
That's the kind of world I want to live in and the world I want my grandchildren to grow up in.
I thank my Dad for his example.
As part of my effort to practice self-awareness and my planned "Happiness Trilogy," (stay tuned for the "Mindfulness" segment - I know you can't wait), I plan to look for ways to be thoughtful every day. It has to start somewhere.
Won't you join me?
What thoughtful gestures do you appreciate or remember?
Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday
for my review of the new movie
The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)
and the latest on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
I Die Project."
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