"Thank you" is much more than two little words!
Updated: Jul 25
As I'm supporting One4All Gift Cards with their fantastic "gratitude" campaign to get us expressing our thanks I wanted to set out much of the reflection I've been doing today on this subject. It's certainly been my pleasure working with Marketing Director Aoife Davey because the opportunity to say "thank you" is not just polite, it can be a true expression of how much someone has touched our lives. In a fast paced world, where we're swiping left and right, and friendships can be "virtual", recognising that someone has made such a connection so much that you want to hold that moment with a "thank you" - often also accompanied by a description of how special that was, is something we could all do a little more often.
I often talk about the importance of gratitude. Rather than get swept up with the "could've/should've/would've" of competition, gratitude allows us to press pause and say "I have" and "I love..." Even if you don't keep a gratitude journal, then add a simple gratitude stretch to start and end your day - stretch your arms and think of one person you are grateful to have in your life, your legs and think of one thing, and give yourself a shake and think about one thing you are looking forward to today. This primes us to focus on what we have rather than what we have not.
One4All Gift Cards has also conducted research finding we on average say thank you "14 times a day", that since the pandemic the people whom we are most grateful for are of course our keyworkers, and the thing that I loved the most was that we are now beginning to appreciate that expressing our thanks has an impact on others.
Many interviewers said to me today "I sometimes have wanted to say to someone - thank you for absolutely making me feel so much better, I really needed that...but then I don't because I don't want them to think I'm crazy or something, and so I just mutter "thank you." This is not uncommon. I have an exercise in my training sessions where I tell delegates to text someone there and then and tell them how grateful they are to have them in their lives. I also then say - "You might need to add you're in a training session and you've been asked to do this, or you're bound to get an "Are you drunk?" reply first." (This is also one of my "standard jokes" - but why should we be drunk before we appreciate others?) Anyway, the best part of that is, they do it, and every time someone's phone goes off in the session and that is one of the nicest things to see...people appreciating each other there and then!
A "Thank you" is contagious. Just think about when you hear someone say "thank you" to a bus driver - you're more likely to do it too; but also if you're let out at a junction, you're probably going to pay it forward. Hearing a thank you makes US feel more grateful - so it not only benefits the speaker, and the recipient, but anyone who hears it...at least for a while...perhaps long enough to pay it forward.
But it's important that we also express why we are so grateful. I gave the analogy of when I was a teacher and we held detentions 2 weeks after the child was sent there, they would arrive, you'd ask "why are you here?" - mostly they couldn't remember. Saying why we are appreciative is important because it allows you and the rececipient to hold that shared moment as unique.
Not only that, but it helps the recipient too.
Sometimes, even if I couldn't have asked for a more thoughtful gift, on saying "thank you" - I am met with "Oh it was nothing". Similarly if I say "thank you" to a key worker they will often reply with "I'm just doing my job"...as a coach when I'm supporting people I try to help them see that their job is important - and they are important for doing it. This is why so often when you say "thank you" - it's met with a "no problem"...that's something else we need to change too. If thought has gone into the thank you, then hold that effort for a while with a "you're welcome"...try not to dismiss it, if nothing else - that "thank you" was really considered.
Over the pandemic I've had a number of lovely "thank yous" sent to me - I've screenshot every one (I don't hold endless messages on my phone so I often delete threads, but I hold onto thanks - the image only shows part of them, and only some of them, as I want to respect the privacy of the authors). I take photos of the thank you pictures your children have drawn, of messages you have sent, even pics of whatever it was I might have given being used. A "Thank you" releases the hormone oxytocin - the bonding hormone - the one that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside, and every time I need a bit of a boost, I look at those screenshots and smile. That was the moment we connected.
But why do we need the pandemic to encourage this change in values? For me, personally, I believe it is because it has forced us to stop, and it has forced us to recognise who and what is of real importance in our lives. We've been able to get off the treadmill. BUT we need to make a conscious effort to keep this going. Just because we're not clapping keyworkers every Thursday doesn't mean they aren't still doing an amazing job; just because certain people aren't under the media spotlight doesn't make them any less important - AND of course please don't just clap and then refuse to wear a mask because it 'infringes your rights' - gratitude is more than lip service!
So what can we do to consciously promote this attitude of gratitude?
1. Practice saying "thank you" more often so it becomes natural. Don't just assume people know, and if you feel awkward, the more you say it, the less awkward it feels.
2.Cultivate a focus on appreciation through a gratitude journal or the gratitude stretch, consciously thinking about why you are so grateful.
3. When you express your thanks, add the "why"
4. ...and when thanks is expressed to you, don't dismiss it, respect it and respond with "you're welcome" to hold that moment of connection a while longer.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt