“Thanks for dinner, Mom. It was good.”
Nancy hears those words from her 16-year-old son almost every night of the week. Whether it’s just a turkey sandwich or a holiday turkey dinner, he never fails to express his thanks to her. Like most people, Nancy taught her son the importance of saying thank you from an early age. But why is this habit so important? Why do people say thank you anyway?
For one reason, we’re all expected to say thank you in certain situations. “Social civility” and basic manners require it, according to the Emily Post Institute. If your grandmother sends you a gift, for example, she might expect a thank-you note, or at the least, a phone call. If you don’t respond, it looks like you don’t appreciate her effort. She might interpret your silence as ungratefulness.
Of course, not all kindnesses call for a formal response, such as a handwritten note—although, “It’s never wrong to send a written thank-you,” says the Post Institute. But when you say thank you in some form—whether verbal, written, or electronic—you can safely assume you’ve made the right choice.
Even small acts of courtesy deserve acknowledgement. Did a stranger open the door for you? You need to say thank you. Did a friend loan you a movie or give you a ride? A proper expression of thanks is in order.
This little rule of etiquette doesn’t require much effort—only two words. So why run the risk of making someone feel ignored or rejected when you can easily avoid it? If there’s any doubt whether a thank-you is required or expected, it can’t hurt to say it.
Back to the Basics
Saying thank you is simply a part of living as a considerate human being. But why is it such a basic part of etiquette?
All humans need to feel appreciated by others. American philosopher and psychologist William James said, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” When you say thank you, you’re meeting that basic human need.
A report on the Psychology Today website notes that saying thanks “acknowledges the person himself.” People express themselves through their actions. So when you show appreciation for a kind gesture or word, you’re showing appreciation for the person behind the gesture.
Many times, you don’t realize how much someone benefits from your gratitude. But sometimes you see the direct result of your appreciation, as did 12-year-old Sarah. After receiving birthday money from her aunt, she wrote a sincere thank-you note and mailed it without thinking anymore about it. She found it amusing when, several days later, she received a note from her aunt which read, “Thank you for the sweet thank-you note….” Obviously, a thank-you note for a thank-you note is neither necessary nor expected! But it’s worth noticing how a simple note played a part in fulfilling someone’s need to be appreciated.
The Friends and Family Plan
Sometimes those who are closest to you need your appreciation the most.
Remember Nancy’s son? Even though he has expressed his gratitude before, he makes a point to thank his mom for dinner again every evening. Why? Because he knows how hard she works, and he doesn’t want her to forget how much he appreciates her efforts.
Like Nancy’s son, you probably have people in your life who do things for you regularly. And you probably feel just as grateful to them as he does to his mother. But do you remember to thank them regularly? Do you remember to thank your dad for driving you to school every morning? Do you remember to thank your best friend for saving you a seat in the lunch room each day? Do you thank your spouse for going to work daily? Because their actions are routine, it’s easy to forget saying thank you, and you may begin to take for granted those people who do the most for you.
Your family and friends need reminding that you do appreciate them. Don’t assume they know how you feel. Make it a habit to say thanks—even for the small or routine things they do for you.
Words for the Weary
But what about the grocery bagger, the theater usher or your dental hygienist? Is it equally important to thank people who are just doing their jobs?
Consider one man’s proof that saying thanks matters to such people. As he sat with his dying wife in the hospital, this man made it his habit to thank the nurses for their hard work. One day, the nurse on duty turned to him before leaving and said, “It’s rare when people say thank you. But when they do, that’s what keeps me going.”
Saying thanks has the power to encourage, to cheer, to inspire or even to help someone make it through the day. Think about all the people you come in contact with who might benefit from a simple thank you. When the overworked waitress refills your glass, when the store cashier hands you the receipt, when the car wash attendant scrubs your tires…say thank you. Often, you will see an immediate response from that person—a smile, a brightening of the face, a spring in the step.
Why does receiving thanks have this effect? Results of a scientific study published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggest that when people are thanked, they “feel socially valued.” They feel they have something important to offer, and they want to continue their efforts. (How do you feel when someone takes time to thank you?)
So when you express thanks to others, you’re likely inspiring them to continue their service or kind behavior with a positive attitude. The more you say thanks the more you may find kindness coming back to you!
Nancy rather enjoys preparing dinner for her family, and she doesn’t expect to be thanked for it, “But I always like hearing my son say thanks,” she says, “No matter how hard I work to prepare a meal, those simple words somehow make it worth the trouble…. Maybe that’s one reason I keep doing it.”
Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg
- OTHER PARTS IN THIS SERIES -Part 2:
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