“I thought the maths exam was so good that I emailed the exam board to tell them what a great variety of problems there were, and how fair I thought it was.”
“Wow. I would never think to do that.”
“I always make it a point to say thank you to those who deserve it. In this case, I imagine very few students say thank you for the exams.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“I got a very nice response thanking me for my own feedback.”
“That’s cool. I’m sure they really appreciated it.”
This is a conversation I had with a friend of mine (Jack) when I was around 15 or 16 years old. This conversation changed me. I was blown away by how kind and thoughtful Jack was, that I decided from then on to always make sure I thanked everyone, too.
I thank people with words, with hugs. I email companies if they’ve done a particularly excellent job. I have written verbose letters to friends who have impacted my life in a big way. I have illustrated cards and recorded myself singing/playing an instrument, all in the name of gratitude.
For instance, here's a card I sent a friend, to say thank you. (He's a pianist, and this work is actually fan-art of the stunning Le Pianoquarium by Aqua Sixio):
Why have I spent time doing this?
Firstly because I enjoy it. I enjoy making things for people. I already like to create, and I constantly want to improve: I often find my motivation levels are highest when I create for someone else. As John Green said:
“Every single day I get emails from aspiring writers asking how to become a writer and here’s the only advice I can give: Don’t make stuff because you want to make money, it will never make you enough money. Don’t make stuff because you want to get famous because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts. Maybe they will notice how hard you worked and maybe they won’t, and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating, but ultimately, that doesn’t change anything because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for but to the gift itself.” - John Green
Secondly - perhaps somewhat more soberly - you never know when someone will not be here any more. Everyone’s time on this earth is temporary, and personally I don’t want anyone to leave without knowing how much their words and actions meant to me.
Thirdly, most people want feedback. They want to feel like they have made an impact; to know what they are doing in the world is making a difference to someone, somewhere. We’re all trying to find our way through the randomness life brings. Sometimes a little thank you can be a guide for us - to confirm we are going about things in the right way. It can make all the difference.
Here's a story I illustrated for my friend Adam, to say thank you for his help after a recent four months in Silicon Valley.
Fourthly - as the many studies of gratitude indicate [see, e.g. http://happierhuman.com/the-science-of-gratitude/], and as my anagram suggests - I too benefit from the practice, and have felt the effects of an increase in happiness.
There are (of course) many different ways to thank someone. Personally I have a few different stages depending on the level of gratitude I want to express. Saying “thank you” to strangers is easy, and takes no time. Writing emails is the next step up. Then writing a long, thoughtful letter. The final stage is illustrating or writing or singing for someone. This takes the longest time and is only used for those who have really made a deep and lasting impact on me. I prefer these approaches over buying objects for people, but that’s just a personal philosophy.
So perhaps you might like to try passing on gratitude, too. If someone has done a good job, if someone has said something that has made you think in a different way, or see things in a new light. If someone has brought you soup when you were ill, or made you smile again after a rough day. If someone has held a door open for you, or allowed you to go in front of them in a queue, thank them (and - importantly - mean it). Take a moment, look them in the eyes, and tell them. Those two simple words take almost no time to say and it can change someone’s entire day (or maybe even their life).
Ironically, there is one person I forgot to thank. Sorry it’s taken me so the best part of ten years. Finally, then: thank you, Jack Webster, for shaping my personality in what you thought was an innocuous conversation. Thank you for changing me for the better.