Welcoming thanks

19 Nov

It’s half way through November and it’s happening again. People all around me are grateful. I have friends who post daily what they are grateful for, everything from goofy co-workers to post-workout meals to husbands returning from out of town trips. One friend is even expressing her gratitude in haiku, but she’s an English professor, so don’t hate.

I asked my grateful friends why they are making these daily gratitudinal adjustments. They said things like, “Gratitude frees me to be a more hopeful, kinder person.” The haiku-writing professor likes being reminded, “to appreciate what I have. I like the daily Facebook project because doing it every day makes me notice the little things. They kind of turn out to be the big things, so I enjoy that irony.”

This professor predicted that I would find all this gratitude annoying. She is right, which is also annoying.

We owe our current focus on thankfulness to the positive psychology movement. Sometime around 2000, researchers found that feeling grateful had a strong and direct correlation to happiness. According to my extensive research on Wikipedia,

Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships[19][22][23] Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self acceptance.[24] Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpreted and grow from the experience, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem.[25]

That all sounds good, and like all things good, it gets perverted.

Corporations get hold of gratitude research and suddenly you’re getting phone calls during dinner thanking you for buying a new dishwasher. Turns out that you’re 70 percent more likely to buy from that dishwasher dealer again if you’re thanked than if you aren’t. My favorite corporate perversion of gratitude is the tech support person who thanks me for calling to report my problem then asks how she can give me excellent service. I’ve never said, “Hm. Well, how about making a product that always works so I don’t ever have to make you grateful again?” I’d be grateful for that.

I’ve frequently been accused of over-intellectualizing and seeing conspiracy around every corner. This is why I keep Professors among my friends. Not one has ever accused me of over-intellectualizing. In fact, I’m quite the lightweight in intellectual terms. So, I know none of them will roll their eyes when I opine that gratitude is the new opiate of the masses.

Constantly being exhorted to be grateful for what we have here and now smacks a little too much of the same philosophy that keeps all disadvantaged peoples happy where they are. Add to the “be happy with what you have” message another one promising reward in the future for contentment today and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for enslaving whole groups of people.

Saying “Thank you” implies that something has been given and while I firmly believe that we should be thankful for our blessings, gifts, or whatever you want to call them, the focus is still on what we have. Gratitude gurus and others selling gratitude keep us caught in the goodies game by having us chasing after more and more gratitude. Now we have to ask not just have we been grateful, but have we been grateful enough. The more grateful we are, the more we will have to be grateful for. It is an infinite loop of gratitude.

And it makes me feel that we’re missing something. When I was a kid, my mother taught me that the proper response to “Thank you”, is “You’re welcome.” But we’re so driven to thanks, that hardly anyone says “You’re welcome” anymore.

These days, the answer to “Thank you” is “Thank you.” I noticed it first in radio interviews, where the host thanks the guest for appearing and the guest thanks the host for hosting. They sign off the same way, thanking each other until every reason for the two of them existing in the same space at the same time—even though it is their jobs to do so—has been thoroughly thanked.

I know my “welcomes” are fewer and I’m betting yours are, too. Listen to yourself the next time you pay for something. The clerk thanks you as she hands back your change; you thank the clerk as you accept it. Hell, I even say “Thank you” instead of “Goodbye” when ending a phone call sometimes.

But what difference does it make if we say “You’re welcome” when we are thanked or if we respond to thanks with more thanks. Aren’t we still spreading the love?

“Thank you” is all about getting goodies, even if, as is the case with getting change back, they are goodies that are yours to begin with. “You’re welcome,” in comparison, is about giving. When we say, “you’re welcome” we acknowledge thanks but avow that there is no indebtedness, nothing to pay back, no need for gratitude at all. “You’re welcome,” opens our lives to a more authentic feeling of bounty. I don’t just give to you; I welcome you to take from what I have.

Every year, family and friends gather at my house for Thanksgiving. I’ve done it so many years that it no longer causes any anxiety. In fact, it’s Monday and I haven’t even bought the turkey yet.

I’ve had anywhere from ten to more than twenty people at my tables, because it usually takes more than one. Not too long ago, I had planned for twenty-two guests. Thanksgiving morning, my niece called begging to bring one more person, an exchange student from Sweden, to the feast.

Much as I love the baking, cooking and decorating for Thanksgiving, I love the gathering. Of course, the exchange student came because, for me, it’s the welcoming that matters when we’re giving thanks.

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23 Responses to “Welcoming thanks”

  1. lucewriter November 19, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Turkey? It’s Monday? Oh no. That worries me now that I haven’t either since they take so long to thaw. Hah, I love your humor. Great stuff.

    • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 10:23 am #

      Thanks! I always buy a fresh turkey so I don’t have to worry about that thawing thing. Have a terrific holiday!

      • lucewriter November 19, 2012 at 10:24 am #

        thank you!! Good tip.

  2. philosophermouseofthehedge November 19, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    (Yes! That writer’s block vanquished.) A welcomed post!
    True gratefulness is fine. All the showy “gratefulness” which really is “see how much better I am – so pious and positive” is annoying.
    Good manners with honest feelings would be such a remarkable change
    This time of year / after such a tragic storm, might be wise to be cautions about emotional appeals to be “grateful for your blessings and share with others”….make sure the ones making the appeals actually hand it all over to those in need. The wrong people don’t need to be grateful you are a nice person.

    • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 11:06 am #

      This was the post that was blocking me. The fact that so many now have had so much taken from them was, in part, what had me thinking about how to continue when you feel you’ve lost everything. A woman close to me lost her family in a very tragic way recently. She is taking it an hour at a time. She is a therapist and many people count on her. She told me that giving of herself actually helps to ease her pain. I didn’t know how to express that with as much power as it has had in my own life.

  3. Madame Weebles November 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I hadn’t really thought about this thanking trend but you’re right. There is a lot more overt thanking, almost socially enforced veneer of gratitude and nicety. It’s pretty phony. Genuine gratitude is wonderful, as is genuine giving with no expectation of anything in return. Happy Thanksgiving to you! And I will leave you with this video clip, because your post reminded me of them:

    • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

      That is fabulous! Have a great Thanksgiving yourself.

  4. Mary Rayis November 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    The purpose of cultivating gratitude is not to keep people enslaved. And it’s not a focus on getting things. It’s a way of acknowledging in every circumstance the things that are good in your life. These things are seldom material goods. I used to keep a gratitude journal by my bed and write 5 things I was grateful for each day. Some days were so horrendous, the only thing I could be thankful for was that the day was over!

    Furthermore, gratitude is not an excuse to ignore the plight of those in need. Grateful people are generous people. They know their lives are abundant with blessings, so they feel free to shower others with them.

    As for the tendency to thank everyone, I like it! It’s nice to be thanked, and it’s pleasant to thank others. Whether socially enforced or not, these pleasantries make people happier.

    • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

      Yikes! Ok, I didn’t say that the purpose of cultivating gratitude is to keep people enslaved. I said that it gets a little close to that when a society expects gratitude for one’s particular lot. I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that we needed to ignore the plight of those in need, either.

      I do have a problem with “I have lots in my life, so I will happily give to you.” I know someone who, right now, has lost everything dear to her. She is literally living, in her words, “hour by hour.” The only thing that is helping her is helping others, giving of herself to others. That spoke so profoundly to me. I didn’t write about it specifically. I don’t think I was quite ready. So, I don’t think you need to have anything in your life to be generous to others.

      AND, as to thinking everyone should stop being polite, I didn’t say “stop saying ‘thank you’.” My whole point here is to start saying, “You’re welcome.” I’m all for gratitude, but I’m not all for saying “Thank you” when someone else says “Thank you” to me.

      • Mary Rayis November 19, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

        J., I love you, but you have completely misinterpreted what I wrote. I am not implying that only people who have a lot can magnanimously give to others. Your friend proves my point, which is that IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, we can have gratitude. Her helping herself by helping others is exactly what I am talking about. I would never minimize anyone’s suffering, or say something like, “You should be happy for what you have.” I’m simply explaining how a grateful heart expands in love to others.

      • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

        Hm….I didn’t think I misunderstood. I think we agree but we are using different terms for the same impulse to help others. I know that my friend does not feel grateful in general right now, but I suppose she may be grateful that her work helps to ease her pain.

  5. cythereandreams November 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    This is wonderfully profound, and it takes Oprah down a peg ;). And I say this as someone who is a “pronoia” follower and is deeply grateful for things like the sun being the right distance from the Earth to give us light and life. But still, the commercialization of gratefulness has been amusing to watch, and you’re right that it can indeed become a perversion of itself, and a way to keep people “in their place” with depressing speed.

    For the record, I say “you’re welcome” often, too.

    • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      Thank you! (To which you say, “You’re welcome.”)

      • Mary Rayis November 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

        Okay, I’m getting annoyed about the “thank you” thing. If I’m in a checkout line and buy a few items, the cashier will probably thank me for shopping at her store. I, in turn, will thank her for her friendly service. Each of us is providing something to the other person. It’s not at all inappropriate for us to thank each other. On the other hand, if I serve a snack to my daughter and her friends after school, and they say “Thank you,” I of course will say “You’re welcome.” I’m certainly not going to thank them for sitting there and thanking me. I don’t understand people objecting to a little politeness and kindness in our day to day interactions.

      • cythereandreams November 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

        You’re very welcome! Happy Turkey Day :).

      • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

        Mary, I think people should be polite! I absolutely do. I also understand the interaction between people during a transaction at a store. I’ve done it, too. My point was that we need to give to each other, to give to others without consideration for whether or not we have much or little. In other words, to give without expectation of thanks because the giving is the reward, for lack of a better word.

  6. SocietyRed November 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    I really like this post. You have touched on one of those things that is right in front of us but isn’t really seen. I understand the link to marketing that just deflates the essence of gratefulness. This has obviously been spinning inside your mind for a while. It amazes me how words can come together so powerfully and gracefully sometimes.

  7. Emily @ The Waiting November 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    I loved this post. You may or may not remember a post I wrote months ago about thankfulness and gratefulness; you wrote a comment that was basically the “fun size” version of the post you’ve written here. I’m so glad you fleshed it out in a full-length post. The overwhelming effusive thanks people dole out – while it may be well-meaning – can’t possibly be genuine 100% of the time. I’m dumbstruck that corporations use thankfulness as a sales tactic. That’s just vile.

    • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

      Emily, I thought it was pretty disgusting and cynical, but I was in marketing for quite some time and would have been there saying, “Hey! Let’s use this gratitude research!” I do recall you writing about thankfulness, but not the specific. Last year, I wrote a post about gratitude. In it, I stated that I wouldn’t dishonor the crap in my life, that I would sit with it and let it suck until I was ready to move on to gratitude. It got me Freshly Pressed.

  8. todadwithlove November 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Wow, the comments to this post have evolved into an “essay” all on their own! I could never have been able to articulate the meaning invested behind “You’re welcome” as lucidly as you have: “”“You’re welcome,” opens our lives to a more authentic feeling of bounty. I don’t just give to you; I welcome you to take from what I have.” It’s so true. And SO profound!

    • jmlindy422 November 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

      Thanks. I really do nothing but sit at my computer and think profound thoughts. That’s why my house looks like it vomited itself all over and my kids think I’m a loser.

      • Karin Evans November 20, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

        NOW I am belly-laughing.

      • jmlindy422 November 21, 2012 at 7:34 am #

        Karin, you’re the best! Happy Thanksgiving to you. Sounds like Laura won’t be home.

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