I hated writing thank you notes as a child, but I had no choice: My mother was adamant about honoring other people’s kindness and generosity.

She was like a master composer, insisting that her protégé practice thank-you-note scales. But now, after a childhood spent crafting those notes, the music of gratitude flows naturally from me.

For example, I hired Brant to build an arbor around my front door. I drew it exactly as I wanted, and he realized my vision perfectly. Marveling at how the arbor’s beauty uplifted me every time I crossed my threshold, I called Brant a few weeks after the arbor went up. He answered the phone defensively.

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“What can I do for you?” he asked, his voice a
cold brillo of distance.

“You can say, ‘You’re welcome,’” I responded.

“I don’t understand,” Brant shot back.

“I am calling to say ‘Thank you.’”

Silence.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I love my arbor, and I wanted you to know how much I appreciate your work.”

More silence.

“I’ve been doing this work for 20 years, and no one has ever called to thank me for it,” said Brant. “People only call me when they have problems.” He was incredulous.

I had a similar experience with L.J., who sold me my car at the Honda dealership. He answered my questions, didn’t push, and gave me space to think and decide. I wrote to let him know that he completely exceeded my expectations of what a beat-‘em-down car sales experience would be like, and that I was happy with my car choice.

L.J. called me a few days later. He said that his was the first thank you note in the history of the dealership. The managers open the mail and then pass on all acceptable communications to the sales team. Evidently, my note was circulated through the ranks, and as a result, L.J. was mercilessly teased. But I’ll bet that every one of his peers looked at him differently after that.

Encounters like these give me pause. Are we really living in an age when feedback loops only close with complaints? It seems to me that when we focus on problems, we only foster dissatisfaction and resentment. But when we focus on celebrating goodness, we are likely to tune into what is good.

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