When someone does a kind deed or favor for us, the “proper” response is to say “thank you.” We’ve been taught from an early age to thank people for things they do for us.
The intention behind this social edict is to safeguard us from becoming self-centered creatures who feel entitled to things without acknowledging others’ kindness.
Fair enough. But now as adults, does our “thank you” operate on automatic pilot, thereby rending it empty and meaningless? Does it keep people distant or invite contact?
Sure, it nicer to hear “thanks” than “You shouldn't have done it “ or to be unacknowledged. But to what extent are we really being received and appreciated when people thank us for stuff? Or have these words become so habitual that it actually blocks the connection that’s possible when our giving is received with an open heart?
The purpose for thanking someone is to express our felt sense of appreciation and gratitude. We don't take for granted what others do for us. We acknowledge that their offering took time, effort, or an awareness of our needs.
But our “thank you” may not get across that we’re grateful if expressed in a mechanical way. A moment of connection may be lost if we don't allow ourselves to take time to feel how it is to receive. We may then convey that feeling, perhaps using more creative words than “thank you.”
As children, if it was drilled into us to say “thanks,” we may quickly mouth the words out of obligation rather than pause long enough to notice how we really feel inside. We may speak from our head rather than allow time for gratitude to swell and express it in a soulful way.
Perhaps words are not even necessary. A smile, a deep breath, soulful eye contact, or a warm hug might say volumes more than any words. Such non-verbal responses—perhaps melded with a sincere “thanks”—can be very contactful and intimacy-building.
Can we slow down and be mindful of how we’ve been affected by tender words of appreciation or a gift? How do we feel inside to receive deeply? Allowing it to seep all the way in is a wonderful gift to the giver—letting them see how delighted and touched we are by their kind thoughts or actions—if indeed we are.
Too many precious moments get lost in life. Being given something may be a rich opportunity to enjoy the vulnerable dance of giving and receiving love and caring. More than the gift or gesture itself, can we allow ourselves to relish the connection that’s implicit when kindness drifts our way?
As expressed in Dancing with Fire,
“Opening ourselves to life, we regain the child’s propensity to receive openly, blended with the adult’s capacity for gratitude. Such innocent receiving can become a holy moment insofar as it makes both giver and receiver more whole and connected.”
Suggestion: The next time someone offers a compliment, gives a present, or does you a favor, do them a favor: refrain from mouthing an automatic “thank you.” Instead, take a moment (even five seconds!) to notice how you feel in your body to have received this gift. Perhaps your heart quickens or there’s a warm feeling in your belly. Or maybe along with a pleasant feeling there’s some awkwardness or discomfort that needs attention. Just let it all be there and be gentle with whatever you’re experiencing.
If it feels right to utter “thanks,” allow it to come from a soulful place that genuinely appreciates the gift. Tell them how you feel to receive the compliment or good deed—maybe something like, “That feels so good” or “I really appreciate that” or “that makes me really happy.” Perhaps a quick, delightfully surprised, “Oh wow!” will give you time to pause, catch your breath, go inside, and notice how you’ve been affected.
Conveying your feeling non-verbally and verbally allows the giver to know how they affected you, which can deepen a connection in this precious moment.
Copyright John Amodeo