The Modern Survival Guide #71
This is the Modern Survival Guide, a guidebook I’m writing for things I think people need to know about living in the modern world. The views expressed here are mine, and mine alone. And I think that saying “thanks” is one of the most important things you can do in life. It’s on par with saying “I love you,” or “I support you” as one of the top messages you can communicate to another human being.
The “why” on this isn’t difficult: saying “thanks” is an act of signaling approval. And approval makes the world go ‘round. It’s one of the key incentives that drives people — that need for affirmation and appreciation that all of us have at some level. There are only two ways to gain approval: to approve of yourself, and for others to approve of you. Approving of yourself, which is to say maintaining a good sense of self-value, is one half of maintaining a good self-image; the other half is gaining the approval of others, their thanks and their appreciation.
Approval is light in a dark universe — it’s a spark that flares in the void to warm us, light our way, and remind us of who we are and who we want to be. We cannot maintain a positive self-image without approval, and people who don’t receive approval on a regular basis tend to develop depressive tendencies. It’s not a mark of weakness to admit this; we’ve hard-wired social animals, and that’s all there is to it.
Saying thanks is therefore extremely important! Particularly in the following instances:
- In your personal relationships: Whether it be with friends, family, or significant others, saying “thanks” is a must. Make sure the important people in your life know that you value them. This is literally the difference between happy, positive relationships and failed, bitter relationships in many cases. Ask a divorce lawyer why their clients are estranged, and a lot of the time the answer boils down to “she/he didn’t say ‘thanks.’”
- In your work relationships: Letting your colleagues know that you value their efforts is critical to maintaining your professional network. It makes you a good team player, and it puts you ahead in the game of office politics by keeping your enemy count low. If people know that you are likely to thank them for their work, especially in public in front of their peers, you will be much more likely to be asked to work on things you want to do.
- In your life philosophy: Ok, now we’re getting a little metaphysical, but bear with me — finding things about your life to give thanks for is extremely important. In order to stop and smell the flowers, you have to first see the flowers. I know that “life sucks and then you die” is kind of the motto of the millennial generation, but it’s not a good working philosophy. Because yes, life can suck. But it usually doesn’t suck all the time, and to pretend that it does is to willfully ignore all the wonder the world offers.¹
- When dealing with public figures: If you approve of a public figure’s work, let them know. These people are generally at the bleeding edge of the media and social world, and I mean that literally. It’s not easy in the limelight. It’s very easy for everyone else to line up to take shots, and because it is that easy, every public figure has to deal with an endless parade of haters. So, if you’re not on the hate train, and you like what they do, it behooves you to let them know — because otherwise they might not get enough approval, and they might stop what they’re doing.²
- When someone is trying to help you: Whether it’s a compliment from a stranger, or assistance on the road when your tire blows out, or that key networking contact that lands you a new job, always say “thanks” when someone helps you. Otherwise you run the real risk of being known as that ungrateful bastard who no one wants to help. Also, and this is critical, say “thanks” when someone tries to help you… because help isn’t always a sure thing, but encouraging it is almost always a good idea.
And as for the “how” to say thanks? It’s easy — simply say to the other person “Thank you for x,” and insert whatever thing you’re giving thanks for in the x. That’s the very least you can do. Now scale up if you want to, or if you feel like you need to — if someone saves your life, throwing them a party with a neon-lit “Thank You!” sign, a Go Fund Me contribution page, and an open bar isn’t going overboard.
So say thanks to the people in your life who make life better, who make you happy, and who do good things for you. And give thanks for the events in your life that make it worth living. If you want to tag one key thing that will make your life better, this is it. Saying “thanks” is a survival trait, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the people in your life. Find someone to thank, and say it with me:
¹Obviously, there are exceptions. There are some truly dark stories out there. So my advice is: unless you are living one of those horror stories, don’t try to pretend that you are. To do so is to cheapen the suffering of others. Most of us have it pretty good, all things considered. This doesn’t mean we have to stop complaining, or that we don’t need to continue working to make the world better — it just means we shouldn’t pretend that our lives are unmitigated thorn pits.
²This echoes the selfish motivation for paying for services — if you like a band, or video game, or restaurant, or whatever… pay for it. Because otherwise there won’t be any more of that thing you like.