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  • Life continually requires that we write down a few  words of thanks: for holidays, meals, presents or  

  • people's place in our hearts. However, too oftenour messages end up flat or somewhat unconvincing;  

  • we say that the dinner was 'wonderful',  the present 'brilliant' and the holiday  

  • 'the best ever', all of which may be true while  failing to get at what truly touched or moved us.  

  • To render our messages more effective, we  might take a lesson from an unexpected quarter:  

  • the history of art. Many paintings and poems  are in effect a series of thank you notes to  

  • parts of the world. They are thank yous for the  sunset in springtime, a river valley at dawn,  

  • the last days of autumn or the face of a loved  one. What distinguishes great from mediocre art  

  • is in large measure the level of detail with which  the world has been studied. A talented artist is,  

  • first and foremost, someone who takes us into  the specifics of the reasons why an experience  

  • or place felt valuable. They don't merely tell  us that spring is 'nice', they zero in on the  

  • particular contributing factors to this nicenessleaves that have the softness of a newborn's  

  • hands, the contrast between a warm sun and a sharp  breeze, the plaintive cry of baby blackbirds.  

  • The more the poet moves from generalities  to specifics, the more the scene comes alive  

  • in our minds. The same holds true in painting. A  great painter goes beneath a general impression  

  • of pleasure in order to select and emphasise  the truly attractive features of the landscape:  

  • they show the sunlight filtering through the  leaves of the trees and reflecting off of a pool  

  • of water in the road; they draw attention  to the craggy upper slopes of a mountain  

  • or the way a sequence of ridges and valleys open  up in the distance. They've asked themselves with  

  • unusual rigour what is it that they particularly  appreciated about a scene and faithfully  

  • transcribed their salient impressions. Some of  the reason why great artists are rare is that  

  • our minds are not well set up to understand why we  feel as we do. We register our emotions in broad  

  • strokes and derive an overall sense of our moods  long before we grasp the basis upon which they  

  • rest. We are bad at travelling upstream from our  impressions to their source, it feels frustrating  

  • to have to ask too directly what was really  pleasing about a present or why exactly a person  

  • seemed charming to have dinner with. But we can  be confident that if our minds have been affected,  

  • the reasons why they have been so will be lodged  somewhere in consciousness as well, waiting to be  

  • uncovered with deftness and patience. We stand to  realise that it wasn't so much that the food was  

  • 'delicious' but that the potatoes in particular  had an intriguing rosemary and garlic flavour  

  • to them. A friend wasn't just 'nice'; they  brought a hugely sensitive and generous tone  

  • to bear in asking us what it had been like for us  in adolescence after our dad died. And the camera  

  • wasn't just a 'great present'; it has an immensely  satisfying rubbery grip and a reassuringly  

  • clunky shutter sound that evokes a sturdierbetter older world. The details will be there,  

  • waiting for us to catch them through our mental  sieve. Praise works best the more specific it can  

  • be. We know this in love; the more a partner  can say what it is they appreciate about us,  

  • the more real their affection can feel. It is  when they've studied the shape of our fingers,  

  • when they've recognised and appreciated the quirks  of our character, when they've clocked the words  

  • we like or the way we end a phone call that the  praise starts to count. The person who has given a  

  • dinner party or sent us a present is no differentThey too hunger for praise in its specific rather  

  • than general forms. We don't have to be great  artists to send effective thank you notes: we  

  • just need to locate and hold on tightly to two or  three highly detailed reasons for our gratitude.

Life continually requires that we write down a few  words of thanks: for holidays, meals, presents or  

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B1 praise present appreciated great studied art

How to Say Thank You

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    Summer posted on 2021/03/17
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