As children we were taught—often forced—to say “thank you” when people did things for us, but because we usually felt pushed to express gratitude, we didn’t learn real gratitude, which is given freely, gladly, joyfully. Instead we learned only obligation.
As adults we continue this obligatory kind of gratitude: we say “thank you” as a mere social habit, we HAVE to send out “thank you” notes after getting Christmas gifts, wedding gifts, and so on.
So “thank you” becomes a matter of duty or habit. In fact, we even use it to manipulate people. Very often—more than we realize—when we say “thank you”:
We’re saying what is socially expected, so that people won’t disapprove of us.
We’re trying to make the other person feel good about our gratitude—people really like to be thanked—so they will repeat the behavior we’re grateful for.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t say “thank you,” only that we consider what our motivation is if we say it. And is it possible that we could respond in ways other than “thank you,” ways that would be more meaningful and less driven by obligation? Let’s see. If someone does something for you, you might consider saying things like the following:
“What you did saved me a lot of time. It was very helpful and thoughtful on your part.”
“I could not have accomplished what I did without your help. It means a lot to me.”
“I had fun working with you on this project. It would not have been nearly as enjoyable without you.
And each of these examples MIGHT also be accompanied by the words “thank you.”
These examples are more than hollow recitations of socially expected gratitude. How? They indicate specifically HOW a kind act HELPED you. People like to know that what they did made a difference, and how. People like feeling useful. They like specific feedback.
Gratitude is an enormous gift, both to the person who helped us, and to ourselves. For more about gratitude, click here.
The more we are aware of what real gratitude is, and how to express it, the happier we will become.