Tony Robbins seemingly compels the attention of the huge crowd. Many have paid thousands of dollars to hear his secrets of success. “I have spoken to over a million people from over 70 countries,” Robbins says, “and I have learned the secret of happiness.” The crowd has pen and paper ready to write down the secret. Robbins continues and explains that you should wake up every morning and, before you do anything else, spend a half hour thanking G-d for everything you have. Amazing, Robbins not only knows about shacharis (morning prayers), he knows how long it takes at many synagogues.
The secular world, Robbins merely being an exemplar, has recognized the value of gratefulness. Studies have consistently found that people who practice gratitude report fewer symptoms of illness (including depression), more optimism and happiness, stronger relationships, more generous behavior, and many other benefits. In fact, both MRI and SPECT studies of the brain show that your brain physically changes (for the better) when you engage in gratitude.
To be a religious Jew is to be grateful. The very name “Jew” comes from the name of Yehuda, the child of Leah and Jacob, whose name has within it the word hoda’ah, gratitude. The Torah teaches that Leah declared when she had another son, “’This time I will gratefully praise G-d’ and therefore she called his name ‘Yehuda.’” (Bereshis 29:35). Rav Pam suggests that Leah understood how easily gratitude is forgotten in everyday life and wanted to ingrain her initial feelings of gratitude so they would not be diminished with the passage of time. Thus, she named her child Yehuda, “gratitude”, so that every time she would use his name, she would remember her original feelings.
Jews are blessed that Hashem and our rabbis designed ways to inculcate an attitude of gratitude in us long before Tony Robbins. We start off our mornings thanking G-d for restoring our souls to us and continue on to blessings thanking G-d for such things that others may take for granted (but hopefully, we don’t) such as our ability to walk, stand and see. We thank G-d before we eat, after we eat and after we go to the restroom. We see the gratefulness of Jews in our social lives as well. As we leave relatives or friends who have hosted us for a Shabbos or even just a Shabbos meal, the “thank yous” at the door often seem to take as long as the meal or Shabbos itself (we even have heard these referred to as “Jewish goodbyes”). We go far beyond Robbins’ half hour of gratitude.
And yet, in many families the “thank yous” end when the family walks in the door of its home. A husband who would never dream of not thanking a friend for a meal, eats a feast prepared by a wife without saying much. At most, the wife’s hours of work get a mumbled “thanks” from the husband.
Of course, the opposite is also true. Many wives who work in the home expect the husband to fill up that checking account and do not ever thank him. As Rabbi Paysach Krohn said, “A wife who wants to be thanked for the bread that she bakes has to thank her husband for the dough that he brings home.”
All of us train our kids to say “thank you” but Mommy and Daddy often are pretty poor role models when it comes to thanking each other. Rabbi Reuven Fink suggested that the reason some people may find it hard to thank their spouses is because in doing so they have admit they need their spouses and their spouses are their other halves. Wake up. Face reality. Your spouse is your other half. Thank him or her.
A simple and constant attitude of gratitude towards our spouses can change everything. Mat recalls it was literally a life changing moment when he and Brachie were first married, he came home from work and Brachie said: “Thanks for working for us today.” And she kept it up. Work, which before had seemed like drudgery now became what it really was: a way he helped his family. We know a couple who have an established ritual that when he comes home they first thank each other for working for the family-he at the office, she at home. Only later, after the glow of the gratefulness has worn off a little, do they address the family business issues.
Rav Pam noted that, if we see the purpose in otherwise mundane activities, it is easier to do them. If one spouse is grateful for the hard work the other does, it gives a new purpose to the work. In fact, maybe this sense of purpose accounts for all or part of the reason married couples make more money and accumulate more wealth than singles.
Rav Krohn suggests that everyone take an index card and write down the things he/she is grateful for and review the list. We think this is a great idea that will make you have a happier life and is entirely supported by findings in neuroscience that writing things down makes them firmer in your brain even if you don’t believe them strongly. Since this blog is about marriage, we ask that you write a specific list about things you are grateful for that your spouse does. Be specific and write it down! This should be a somewhat different list than the list of your spouse’s good qualities we asked you to write in an earlier blog. We are certain your spouse has good qualities beyond what they do for you. And, if the two list are the same what you really are saying is that goodness is defined by what your spouse does for you. Think about that.
In our house, we work on thanking each other for every nice experience we share-from places we go with each other to moments of fondness. We even thank each other for thanking each other.
The Solinga family in New Rochelle took one of Mat’s sermons on this topic to heart and Steve and Lisa report it has changed their dinner table. As Mat suggested, the Solingas start dinners each night by going around the table and each person thanks everyone else individually for something specific. Steve, the father, tells us that not only does everyone feel good, but because the children (Sarah and Noah) have to say something nice about other family members, the children are focused on finding good things about other members of the family (as opposed to complaining).
If you think about it seriously for even a minute, you will see how absurd it is that we are not more grateful. The secular world promises us happiness if we are grateful. Gratitude is fundamental in Judaism. Happiness, here and in the life to come, seems like a pretty good trade-off for remembering our manners and thanking our spouses.
So today and every day, thank your spouse. Drop them a text during the day such as “just thinking of everything you do for me and I am so grateful.” A fast phone call every once and while can light up your spouse. Get back your attitude of gratitude and your life will change here and in the next life.
 Kairns, Moore and Mayr, The Cultivation of Pure Altruism via Gratitude: A Functional MRI Study of Change with Gratitude Practice, Frontiers in Human NeuroScience Published online 2017 Dec 12. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00599; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5770643/; see also, https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/what_we_do/major_initiatives/expanding_gratitude
 Zagorsky, Marriage and divorce’s impact on wealth, Journal of Sociology, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1440783305058478
 Martine, et al, Cognitive Dissonance Induced By Writing a Counterattitudinal Essay Facilities Performance on Simple Tasks but not on Complex Tasks that Involve Working Memory, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 46, Issue 4, 587-594 (2010) available at www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103109002716