Be grateful for thanks

Teenage hugging

Say thanks, it’s good for both of you.

 Ruth Ostrow,The Australian 

A cousin has been staying with me for a few weeks while he’s house hunting, and I’ve been helping to fatten him up a bit. So each night I’ve been enticing him with my cooking.

Some meals are great; most meals are pretty average. But that doesn’t stop a shower of gratitude that I’m unused to. “Thank you so much. You didn’t have to do that for me. I really appreciate it,” is the regular response, followed by jumping out of the seat to the sink, cleaning (really cleaning, as in scrubbing before dishwasher) and putting things away.

In exchange, I’m having things done for me that no one has helped me with for a good while. Things are being lifted, and dragged, banged into shape, picked up, or sorted out. And I too am on a drunken “thank you” train, empathetically verbalising my appreciation. “You don’t have to thank me,” he said yesterday as he dragged a whopping great desk up a steep flight of stairs.

We both commented that we were not used to being thanked as much as we thanked each other. In fact, we’d both been suffering TYDD: thank you deprivation disorder.

“Your thank-yous make me a bit uncomfortable,” he admitted “Like, I’m not sure I deserve it. I used to do this all the time for my ex and I never got thanked.

“She’d just give me instructions — ‘I’m going into the shower and you need to do this, that, and the other’. I would do them, and then she’d just carry on as if it was supposed to be done. Maybe muttering a brief thanks, but not really grateful, kind of just taking my efforts for granted.”

Sounded too familiar to me. As a mother, partner and general housekeeper I’ve always cooked and done everything for my family without expecting gratitude or recognition. Of course not. But perhaps we should? Studies have shown that employees who are shown gratitude show significantly increased performance and motivation, while at home those who feel praised and appreciated rate highly in wellbeing studies due to feel-good hormones, and those who feel loved suffer less coronary disease.

Yet we get used to getting by without thanks. We grow old and rusty with neglect and then stop praising in return. I’m no romantic but the odd bunch of flowers or wine has done me wonders after culinary efforts. usually from party guests rather than live-in persons (cough), and like most parents I’ve settled for being thrilled if anyone lifts a plate to the sink without pulling a face.

I asked around and a lot of us feel unthanked, mainly by our nearest and dearest — children, partners, siblings and parents — as if we are on the planet to be a handmaiden, taxi driver, carrier of items, solution finder, or to work for bosses and clients beyond the call of duty.

Friends tend to be the ones who give thanks most often and most generously, according to reports.

Bottom line: we can’t make people thank us, but we can lead by example, by being the one who’s doing the thanking rather than retreating into the tit-for-tat “meanness” that overcomes a lot of relationships.

Being grateful to others is good for our health too. A recent study as part of the positive psychology movement found: “Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism … (They) can cope more effectively with everyday stress, and enjoy more robust physical health.”

People who say thanks are also, according to studies, more popular. I can vouch for that as I try to stop my cousin from leaving by lying across the doorway …

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