The Case for Thanking a Stranger

gratitude gratitude gravy Nov 30, 2021

There's nothing like having a police officer unload your luggage from the back of a patrol car at a gas station to remind you of why it's important to thank a stranger.

A week ago, we were at the tail end of a 3 hour road trip to the airport from our mountain town, driving down hill at 75 mph when our car's electrical system COMPLETELY SHUT DOWN amidst busy rush-hour Denver traffic.

As the dashboard went from "every engine light, warning light on" red to complete darkness, we contemplated using the nearby runaway truck ramp. Luckily, my husband's skillful coasting took the car just a tiny bit further to a small triangular median between the onramp and the highway to pull over. Fortunately, we were alive, but the car was now completely dead.

To say this was scary and dangerous and a terrible way to start the Thanksgiving week is a gross understatement.

It was too dangerous to even open a car door to get out of the car, nearly impossible for an Uber to pick us up. Not sure where my rating would go for asking for a ride practically in the middle of an interstate onramp.

We called a tow truck and the police.

The police officer got us out of the car, loaded half our luggage into the back of his patrol car and ferried half of our family (my daughter and me) to the nearest gas station - 20 minutes away.

He then returned to our car and picked up my husband and my other daughter and the rest of our luggage to deposit them at the gas station while the tow truck loaded up our vehicle.

The officer was so nice, helpful and even unloaded the luggage! The manager of the gas station was outside and remarked, "well that's not something you see everyday.". Sure isn't.

This officer went well out of his way to help us. When he finished unloading our bags positioned next to his swat team gear, I thanked him, and asked for his name and his card.

The next day, at breakfast, I called the police station and left a message letting his sergeant know how helpful the officer had been, and how grateful we were that he went out of his way to make our bad situation a lot better.

I also emailed the local Kum and Go manager to say how kind the manager had been in getting us from the curb to a closed off seating area in their cafe to wait for our ride.

She offered free coffee and hot chocolate. I don't even drink coffee, but even just the offer was soothing to my freaked out self.

A few days days ago, I got a return call from the sergeant of the police station.

He said I just wanted to call you and thank you for taking the time to acknowledge our officer. We really appreciate it, it doesn't happen very often. He's a great guy, we're glad he could help.

I also got an email from the Kum and Go saying how happy they were to receive a nice note about how well we were treated by their employee.

It's funny how people will go well out of their way to make sure a business knows what went wrong in the customer experience, but won't take just a few minutes to say when something went right.

As a former restaurant owner of 14 years, I know this reality all too well. 

Gratitude is a pro social emotion.

It helps us all connect better as humans. It reminds us why It's good for our society to get along and appreciate each other. 

We need to remember that a true gratitude practice isn't just about writing in a private journal, we need to remember to give that thanks away!

In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology showed that people who reaped the biggest benefits from gratitude do both (reflect on what they are grateful for and express it!).

I realized a few years ago that gratitude was also a way to recover from extremely challenging and stressful situations.

My husband was in a serious motorcycle accident in 2017 and was helicoptered to a trauma hospital ICU where he stayed for over 5 days.

Before he was discharged, I wrote out gratitude on comment cards recognizing all of the amazing doctors, ICU nurses, housekeepers, cafeteria workers, security guards and valet parking attendants who had been helpful or kind to me during his hospital stay.

The week had been unbelievably scary, stressful, and exhausting, but taking the time to reflect on how wonderful so many of the caregivers had been to us brought me a huge amount of peace.

It was especially calming as I was still rapidly vacillating between being extremely grateful that he was going to be okay, and also fantasizing about taking a sledgehammer to his motorcycle.

Gratitude is a contagious form of stress-resiliency (don't worry, I still got rid of the motorcycle)!

Today’s Challenge: thank a stranger.

Yes, a stranger, or someone you don’t know very well. How you choose to carry out this gravy mission is up to you.

Yes, this one can be a bit out of people’s comfort zones, but I’m a big proponent of leaving your comfort zone.

The juiciness of life is just outside of our comfort zone!

Here are a few socially-distant ideas. These tips even caught the attention of Health magazine's journalist Jennifer King Lindley and are featured in this month's gratitude issue!

You just need to pick one and tuck away the other ideas for inspiration during the rest of the year.

  • Write a positive review on iTunes for your favorite podcaster. Tell them how the podcast has helped you, inspired you, entertained you. A podcaster’s favorite form of payment is a 5-star iTunes review, so this is a great way to thank them for providing you content you love.
  • Did a stranger help you and you'll probably never see them, again? Use to write a 500-character online thank you to someone you don’t know how to reach. Need a boost? Read the public thank-you’s others have written to strangers who helped them. It’s way more uplifting than the news! 
  • Send a pizza to the health care workers at your local hospital thanking them for all that they are doing right now or send a pizza to the staff of a favorite charity to reward their hard work.
  • Send a thank you to a soldier through Operation Gratitude.
  • Thank every amazing human who is working during the holiday season. 

Or come up with your own creative idea like my friend, Lynaia, did in a previous #gratitudegravy challenge (story below).

Gratitude Gravy participant and Life Feaster, Lynaia South, took thanking a stranger to a whole new level of kindness and creativity!

From Lynaia: "Speaking of gratitude - when I ran my 50K this summer I carried thank you cards for the people at the aid stations, other runners, or people I met on the trail.

It brought me so much joy to hand them out. Inspired by your Gratitude Gravy challenge and a post I saw from a runner."

A longtime gratitude gravy participant, Katie Thornton left a letter of gratitude on the bathroom door of the building that she works in for the cleaning staff.

The cleaning staff member was floored and touched by the sweet letter and told her so. 

Yes, in so many of these instances, the people are doing their job, but gratitude is the glue that holds our communities together. And it's a two for one bonus - when you say thank you to someone else, you not only make their day, but you make your day, as well!

I'd love to hear your inspiring stories of thanking a stranger. You can use hashtag #gratitudegravy or DM me @lizzielarock and share. 


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