The meaning of “thank you”

196-kristin peeking

We say “thank you” many times a day – in interactions with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, even strangers. “Thank you,” for holding that door open for me, for handing me a pen, for taking my money so I could buy and have groceries. But I probably say it less often in my home than is definitely needed. (It’s terrible how I often take for granted those who are closest to me.) During this week of American thankfulness, I thought Iʼd reflect on what giving thanks means, especially when comparing it to another culture.

I spent three weeks in India my junior year of college. The first words we asked how to say in Hindi were “hello” or “namaste” and “thank you” or dhanyavaad” (daan-ya-vaad). I did not know it while I was there, but in India, saying thank you often can be rude. To give thanks to another person is a much grander gesture, as if to be sincerely grateful for what someone has given you along with saying, “Iʼm so thankful for this that it only seems right for me to return the favor – in a grand way as well.” It does not mean returning the gesture out of guilt. It is giving because you have been blessed and want to offer others blessing too. It’s a very mature place to be in, in my opinion.

But my interest of this revelation was more on questioning which is better: saying “thank you” often or rarely? I began to recount when people told me thank you. A stranger saying it as I let them walk ahead of me into the store first. My husband saying, “thanks, babe,” when I brought home his favorite drink. A co-worker thanking me for completing a simple task. And I recalled when I said it to similar people for similar actions. These were generally not anything of great importance. (Shoot, half the time I don’t know why I even said it. It just seemed like the best and quickest response so I wouldn’t look foolish standing there quietly.) So should I stop saying thanks as often?

Several years ago, I read a great book from Ann Voskamp called “One Thousand Gifts,” which was about the simplicity of all the things to be thankful for around us. She kept a list of things she was thankful for everyday – and they were very simple. The sounds of laughter from her children, a sunset, the taste of lemonade on a hot summer day. I was impressed by her ability to focus on and keep up with this task. Then I remembered reading somewhere a while ago to keep a gratitude journal, where you write 3 things you were thankful for throughout the day. It seemed easier to just thank God for those three things in my daily prayers, but the beauty of a journal is that you can go back and see how your life was in a given time period, and, similar to a prayer journal, see how God had interacted with those thing you were thankful for.

I really enjoy when people thank me because I feel like I’ve helped make their life a bit easier. I can appreciate why Indians do not say it as often, but for Americans, I feel like we could say “thank you” every hour and it would still not be enough to make each person feel appreciated for what they offer to our society. So expect to continue to hear my thanks for the big and small ways you help me and my family. And many thanks to you for experiencing the Recovering Martha journey with me.

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