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Published November 20, 2014

Gratitude Notebook: Strangers Share Thankfulness

Since this is the season of giving thanks, I conducted a somewhat unconventional experiment this weekend, attempting to discover if an attitude of gratitude exists in our communities. I wandered the streets of Raleigh and Durham, asking passersby to write in a notebook I was carrying. The theme: What are you grateful for?

I took up my research at three locations.

  • The bus stop outside The Chapel on the campus of Duke University
  • The parking lot of the Durham VA Hospital (on Veteran’s Day)
  • The grounds of the NC State Capitol


Duke University

The students here were very willing write something in my Gratitude Notebook. Only one of the 11 people I asked said “no” to making an entry to it, citing the fact that he was running late. The theme of the gratitude among this college-age community clearly had to do with what lies ahead for them.

Gratitude Notebook-- Strangers Share Thankfulness - Duke

“Opportunities.” – Laura

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to come to Duke.” – Ian

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to compete for a spot in the NCAA field hockey Final Four.” – Hannah

The most unique addition to the notebook was from David. “I am grateful for an eternal perspective,” he wrote.

This group was certainly looking ahead.


VA Hospital

It was a conscious choice to go on Veteran’s Day. I expected to be astounded. I was, but not in the way I imagined. Most people declined to write in my notebook at this location. Many professed to be late, in a hurry or just not interested. A group of construction workers I approached initially said, “I don’t think so. It’s been a tough week.” Among the people who did take the time, there was an obvious, but different, theme to the responses: The Present.

Gratitude Notebook-- Strangers Share Thankfulness - VA

“I am grateful to be alive. Praise the Lord with my full heart.” – Chris, a former Marine

“I was diagnosed with cancer 4-11-11. Today have not been treated for cancer again! God is good! – James, a homeless Veteran

“Grateful for the day.” – Dan, one of the construction workers who did speak up.


State Capitol

My final stop was the busy State Capitol at the end of the work week. There was a good cross-section of people. Some walking alone, others not. Some young, others not so. Most, no doubt, heading home. Surprisingly, there was a theme here, too: Family and Love.

Gratitude Notebook-- Strangers Share Thankfulness - Capitol

“I am grateful for being alive with the person that makes me feel loved every day of my life.” – Stacey. Without knowing what she wrote, her companion, Taylor wrote, “I am grateful for the people who love me, and for those that I love. I am grateful for life.”

“Health.” “Peace.” “Family.” – Marjukka, Chris, and Crispin, walking together.

“Great health and supportive family.” – Leslie

RELATED: #GivingTuesday: The Idealist’s Answer To Black Friday.


What did I derive from my (unscientific) research?

  • Gratitude comes easy, if you say “yes.” Those who agreed to my request, took my pen and immediately started to write. No hesitation.
  • Our present situation influences our focus. We can, and should, be thankful for what lies ahead, thankful for the moment and thankful for the people that brought us to the here and now.
  • Don’t wait to show your appreciation. My guess is that those who turned me down, probably did have something come to mind as they walked away, but they missed an opportunity to share it.

I consider myself a grateful person.

My family and I have instituted a “Gratitude Jar” to build the habit being thankful. Each of us tosses a dated, handwritten note in the jar each time we’re moved to do so.

On New Year’s Eve, we open the jar, read them and reflect on the abundance that the year has brought.

If you could take a moment and write what you are thankful for in the comments below, I’d be grateful.

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  • Michael Palko


  • Instructional designer, Photographer-in-Residence at Historic Oakwood Cemetery, and social learning evangelist. Oh, digital storyteller, too. I take pictures. Lots of them. Find me on Instagram: mpalko. All my articles.

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