The Importance Of Saying Thank You

October 01, 2018

The Importance Of Saying Thank You

Thank you is the current conventional expression of gratitude. When someone offers us their seat on a bus, we might acknowledge their generosity with a thank you. When we ask a friend to help us with some information, we say thank you for their assistance and to acknowledge we have received the information they provided us. 

Thank you and its use or lack of use have been top-of-mind for me lately. I believe thank you is a very important phrase and I'll outline why below. I've also been wondering why it feels like use of the phrase thank you is declining and considering whether the way we're communicating on social media is influencing the change.

But first, where does the phrase thank you come from?  


The origins of thank you

The phrase thank you derives originally from the word think. In this early form, it meant I will remember what you did for me. From there it progressed to a more favourable thought or feeling which could be paraphrased to "for what you have done for me, I think on you favourably." In some instances, thank you has indicated a debt owed. For example, in Portuguese Obrigado means "much obliged" and can be interpreted as "I am in your debt."

The habit of saying thank you is fairly new and first began to take hold during the commercial revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this time the middle classes began using the phrase regularly until it became the social norm. And so, its development arose from a philosophy, a set of assumptions of what humans are and what they owe each other, and has now become so deeply ingrained into our culture that perhaps we are not even aware of the rationale behind its use and why it's important.


The importance of thank you

Reviewing the literature, it appears that thank you is important to people in many different ways. Thank you is an appreciation of a person choosing to take a certain action versus having to be told to take an action. It is an acknowledgement of our free-will, an appreciation of our freedom of choice.

Saying thank you has been proven to build social relationships and trust. This premise is based on the find-remind-and-bind theory of gratitude, proposed by US psychologist Sarah Algoe, from the University of North Carolina. According to this theory, thanks prompts:

  • the initiation of new social relationships (a find function)
  • orients people to existing social relationships (a remind function)
  • promotes maintenance of, and investment in, these relationships (a bind function)

Saying thank you allows people to feel appreciated and loved. Have you noticed how you feel when someone genuinely thanks you and you are able to accept that thank you fully? It's a great feeling for the giver of the thank you and the receiver too. 

Being appreciated is one of the things that motivates us. When we are thanked for doing something we feel good, and because we've been rewarded for our action it's more likely that we'll act the same way again in the future.

Saying thank you allows us to feel genuine gratitude and to pass that gratitude on to another. It is a recognition of our common humanity. You are sharing a little bit of your heart with another person and so that person receives a gift from you. 

Saying thank you can change someone's life. Just like a simple smile can make someone's day, a thank you can have a similar positive impact. By saying thank you and meaning it, you could turn someone's bad day into a good one, and who knows how things will go from there. 


Are we saying thank you less?

While saying thank you is something we are taught from childhood and a phrase we may think we are using frequently, it turns out that human beings say thank you far less often than we might think.

A new study of everyday language use around the world has found that, in informal settings, people almost always complied with requests for an object, service or help. For their efforts, they received expressions of gratitude only rarely — in about one of 20 occasions.

While this might seem like a damning verdict on human nature or evidence of a global pandemic of rudeness. There is another perspective considered by the study; that this finding indicates that our basic stance is one of reciprocity, that when we ask people to help us, their default is that they will. However, the author of the study also indicates that saying thank you is important and something we should continue to teach our children. 



So it seems we are saying thank you less than we think we are, something to consider. And, because thank you is an important phrase to use for many reasons including that it makes people feel good and strengthens our social connections, I would like to propose that you commit to saying thank you a little more often.

Let me get the ball rolling, thank you for taking the time to read this article.  



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