Of Bakeries and Bookstores (and Churches?)
As I begin my reflections on the immense power of expressing gratitude to bring well-being to both giver and receiver, I want to share a little story. A few years ago I was teaching a Cannon Valley Elder Collegium class on Retirement, Change and Positive Psychology. We focused on the occasions in life that foster feelings of positive emotion – joy, contentment, satisfaction, excitement, etc. It was usual in class for us to share stories of times when we “found” those positive emotions. One class period I asked the students to share their stories about discovering “happiness” in our Northfield community. After listening to their stories during class and reading the written stories of their discoveries, here is what I wrote back to all of the students:
After class yesterday and again this morning, I looked over the notes I collected from your comments in class and your written comments about where you found “happiness” in the Northfield community. I noted that two of the places a number of you mentioned were the Brick Oven Bakery, and the Monkey See, Monkey Read bookstore.
So today I went to both stores to express my gratitude to the proprietors for how they make our community a better place to live. I told them a bit about our class and how you students had mentioned their stores for being especially welcoming -- leaving us “shoppers” feeling good about ourselves and about life.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my comments to the proprietors set off prolonged conversations. In both cases, they thanked me back for my comments, smiled widely, and said almost identical words, “It is ironic that you say that, because I do this on purpose because…” At that point their stories diverged.
The woman at the Brick Oven Bakery said that before she went to college she worked in her local home town grocery store. The owner was outgoing and loved people. He would go out of his way to make his customers feel glad they came in. He would call his customers by name when he could, and engage them in conversation. She said that she was really impressed with what he did, and found herself trying the same approach – and discovered that the customers were friendly right back to her as well. She grew to thoroughly enjoy her work because of the shared congeniality. She never forgot those important lessons as she continues that welcoming behavior, in part because it makes her feel good too.
The proprietor at Monkey See, Monkey Read bookstore, told me that before he opened his bookstore he read some books about retailing. One of those books told about the virtues of what was called “The Third Place”. The first place is our home, the second our workplace, and the third is some place in the community (e.g. library, coffee house, barber shop, gym, garden shop, bookstore, [church]) where people enjoyed the other people there and would stop by for what author, Ray Oldenberg, called, “a more authentic and connected way of life”.
I’m intrigued by these two conversations that were prompted by your stories of finding “happiness” in a “Third Place”.
I write to you now, to thank you for the encouragement to engage the proprietors. I urge all of you to do the same with the people in town who create good feelings for you. Share your gratitude, your thanks, with people in stores and other places where people do something to make you feel welcomed, comfortable, authentic and connected. You might tell them about our class and how you learned to notice where things happened that made you feel better about yourself and life.
I didn’t have to ask my two “retail” storytellers why they were so welcoming, it just came tumbling out with enthusiasm, but you might find that in some cases you need to ask, “why”. Some may say, “Oh, I don’t know, it’s the way I’ve always been.” But others may have a longer and more fascinating tale to tell.
Please let me know if you try doing this and the results. I am very interested in your story. In any case, there is no doubt that by sharing your gratitude you will make the people you compliment and yourself feel better!
Now as I review this experience of several years ago, I wonder how our churches would fare in this kind of search? Do our churches foster our positive feelings of being welcomed, comfortable, authentic and connected?
There are several things that jump out at me now as I think about the these stories of welcoming and gratitude:
- First, I am struck by the fact that both of the proprietors said that they adopted such a welcoming and positive reinforcing process on purpose. I have known some people over the years who seemed as though they grew up welcoming all people they ever meet. However, I suspect that for most of us, expressing thanks and welcoming others is a learned behavior and we must make deliberate choices to do something enabling others to feel better about themselves and about life.
- Second, I was struck by the reciprocity that their deliberate efforts to welcome others, to smile, to connect, to ask about their life, was reciprocated by the person(s) with whom they were speaking. Herein, of course, lies the secret power of sincere expressions of thanksgiving.
- Third, I will not forget the clear delight in the eyes and expression of those two retail proprietors and the quick response of thanks and story from them that came from my appreciation expressed and eagerness to listen to their story. It felt rather spiritual.
I rather suspect that there are some important lessons here for us church-goers who would like to see our church’s ministry grow.