Like most parents, I taught my children to say "thank you" frequently and hoped that giving thanks might become a life habit. After all, silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone. But I think that what I hoped to teach them was not simply to say thanks, but to feel it. I believe that thankful people are happy people.
The late Dr. Fulton Oursler used to tell of an old woman who took care of him when he was a child -- a woman who not only expressed her thanks, but felt it. Anna was a former American slave who, after emancipation, was hired by a family for many years.
He remembered her sitting at the kitchen table, her hands folded and her eyes gazing upward as she prayed, “Much obliged, Lord, for my vittles.” He asked her what vittles were and she replied that they were food and drink. He told her that she would get food and drink whether or not she gave thanks, and Anna said, “Yes, we’ll get our vittles, but it makes ‘em taste better when we’re thankful.”
She told him that an old preacher taught her, as a little girl, to always look for things to be grateful for. So, as soon as she awoke each morning, she asked herself, “What is the first thing I can be grateful for today?” Sometimes the smell of early-morning coffee perking in the kitchen found its way to her room. On those mornings, the aroma prompted her to say, “Much obliged, Lord, for the coffee. And much obliged, too, for the smell of it!”
Young Fulton grew up and left home. One day he received a message that Anna was dying. He returned home and found her in bed with her hands folded over her white sheets, just as he had seen them folded in prayer over her white apron at the kitchen table so many times before.
He wondered what she could give thanks for at a time like this. As if reading his mind, she opened her eyes and gazed at the loving faces around her bed. Then, shutting her eyes again, she said quietly, “Much obliged, Lord, for such fine friends.”
Oursler was deeply influenced by Anna’s uncanny ability to always find some reason to be "much obliged." This wise woman taught him a secret that many people have never learned: she taught him how to be happy.
-- Steve Goodier