We hear these words on a daily basis: when we hold open a door, complete a transaction, take out the trash without being asked. Sometimes the phrase is empty propriety, but oftentimes it’s just the thing we needed to hear. We all crave appreciation and acknowledgement, and thank you can taste so sweet when it arrives at just the right moment.
But what I’ve recently discovered is that there’s a negative side to this phrase, too. There’s a time when it becomes hollow and metallic—a caricature of appreciation. For instance, you know when you’re in a loopy mood and you say a word over and over until it starts to sound like an alien language? Foot, foot, foot, foot, fooooot, haha. Said too much, a word can become nothing more than a string of syllables rolling off your tongue. And thank you is no exception.
I have a friend who gives off optimism and goodwill like cows give off methane. She’s considerate and kind, and she does nice things for me so often that I was happy to finally repay her when she suffered a crisis and needed support. I did what I could, and she showed her appreciation readily. With time the worst of the crisis passed, but after a while I realized that I was still jumping through hoops for her. Somewhere along the line her appreciation had transitioned to expectation, and my enthusiasm had dissolved into resentment.
This was mainly due to the car rides. First she asked if I would drop her off at her boyfriend’s, and I agreed. Then she asked again, and oh, could we stop at the store on the way there? I didn’t mind at first, until repeated offenses made me start to feel like the local taxi service. But how could I be mad at her, when she didn’t have a car of her own and it was cold outside and besides, she paid for gas? Feeling resentful made me feel guilty, and feeling guilty made me feel more resentful. Who was wrong, and who was right? I sure didn’t know.
But it was the thank-yous that made it worse. “Thank you so much,” she’d say in a chipper voice, as she opened the car door to hop out. “We really appreciate it!” The “we” referred to the collective unit of her and her boyfriend, a pairing that could not be separated. And maybe this is where my resentment originated. Since she had become serious with her boyfriend, I had felt abandoned. We had been roommates for nearly three years, and during that time we had been practically inseparable. But now there were less and less Friday-night movies, shopping trips, weekly meals together. She started spending the majority of her time at her boyfriend’s apartment, and I suddenly found myself eating and, for the most part, living alone.
This is what made it so hard when she hopped out of the car with a flimsy thank-you and no second glance. Yes, she was saying thank you, but was she really showing it? How was I supposed to feel when I gave her my time, and yet, she seemingly had none left to give to me?
This is when I realized that the true value of thank you isn’t in how you say it; it’s in how you show it. My roommate was doling out thank-yous and appreciation like candy at Halloween, but without any palpable action, her words had ceased to carry meaning. I heard her, I just didn’t believe her.
As a result of this experience I’ve tried to become more aware of my words. Yes, I still say thank you every day—at school, at work, at the store—but for my family and friends, I try to show my appreciation more than I say it. A handwritten card, a batch of cookies, or just an afternoon spent with someone can mean more than you think. All in all, I’ve found time to be more powerful than thank you.
Edited by: Maddy D.