How you are faking Gratitude

How you are faking Gratitude

We fake gratitude. You and I do this every day. We are faking gratitude.

I don’t mean to be cruel and I am not accusing you of being a liar. I am referencing the habitual verbal responses we have to the world in the form of “politeness”, “good manners” and “etiquette”. It is often mistakenly seen as the behavioural portion of gratitude – that bit when we open our mouth and thank the giver of the gift/door opening/bringer of fine (or not so fine) food and drinks. This usually occurs whether or not we actually feel the emotion of gratitude.

Instead we have generally been brought up to display polite behaviour and have good manners. This is not gratitude. This is politeness and dutiful obligation that has been programmed into us throughout our childhood years. It helps us get on in the world and have good relationships but does not contribute to our personal experience of the feeling of gratitude.

We are, in a sense, faking gratitude. We say the words but the genuine feeeeeeeeling of gratitude is not there.

Don’t get me wrong: I love manners, dig etiquette (when its not too restricting) and appreciate politeness. I ask it of my child and place importance on her ability to have good manners. I see that as a crucial role as a parent. In fact, witnessing these behaviours often generates thoughts and feelings of gratitude in me. Why? Because I consider polite behaviour to be optional. People do not have to display this behaviour (and often do not) so it is quite wonderful, and appreciated by me, when they do. It is a bonus in my day to receive the gift of good manners and pleasant human interaction.

Politeness is like an air-cushion—there may be nothing in it, but it wonderfully eases the joltings along the rough road of life”.
~Attributed to H.W. Beecher

Please do not confuse good manners and politeness with gratitude. It is faking gratitude at best.

How can we spot someone faking gratitude?

So how do we know if someone is genuinely grateful or is faking gratitude? As I coach I have become very interested in body language, facial clues and vocal pitches (check out the work of Paul Ekman). Such clues let me know what is going on in the thinking world of my client. Gratitude however has no trackable cues of expression. This is why we can politely thank our aunty for her Christmas gift of a hanging tile with some modicum of success.

My external display of gratitude can be a little strange and often confusing. I can find myself totally overwhelmed by experience of the feeling of gratitude. I usually lose the ability to coherently speak and I slightly physically crumple. It’s not a good look and creates a confused gift giver. They must be thinking: is she happy? Displeased? Upset? Has gas? Now I have written this in a publicly, I suspect Christmas time is going to get a little trickier!

Take some time now to think how you display gratitude. Do you blush? Does your voice waver or pitch change? Do you ‘tear up’? How does this differ from faking gratitude?

Can you change moments of saying ‘thank you’ into real, aware, expressions of gratitude?

Let me know in the comments below!

Extract (with edits) from the forthcoming book: The Gratitude Papers



  1. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I think I understand what you’re getting at, but I’m not sure if you are talking about faking gratitude or about faking politeness? Even if your expressions of gratitude aren’t pretty (gas? ha ha ha) you still felt that gratitude, right, it was real! 🙂 A fake blurt of thanks is anything but thanks, but I think gratitude has nothing to do with the attitude/state of mind of another person who is giving thanks or doing something out of habit. Many polite encounters that might have been no more than taught politeness have triggered in me a true feeling of gratitude and I hope to teach that to my kids. One time I was sprinting to the train station with 2 minutes left, I paid for my ticket, stamped it and turned over my wallet and spilled out all of my coins across the entire station floor. People came from all over to help me — maybe these people were annoyed at my stupid mistake that could cost them time to catch their train, some didn’t look at me, just handed me change and ran to their train, I didn’t judge them and whether or not their actions were merely ingrained politeness to do the right thing. I wanted to hug them all but I didn’t have time. 😉 Also, I was so embarrassed I’m sure my look of thanks was contorted and sweaty but I don’t think that detracted from my experience of gratitude — from then it’s up to the other person if they want to take in my thanks or just blow it off because my grateful face looked scary! ha ha

    • My gratitude is real, it’s just hard to tell (and comical!) as everyone has different ways of physically displaying gratitude (in contrast to well known signals for happiness, anger, disgust).

      My ability to get my gratitude going on has zero to do with the other person. My gratitude comes from my thinking about the other person. I appreciate and value politeness (and hence I also teach it to my daughter) and that allows me to experience gratitude.

      I love your example! The ability to be able to receive gratitude is the subject of another blog post!

  2. I display gratitude by hugging and my voice usually goes quick loud and high pitched. To each their own. It is my way of showing how happy and honored I am. I express happiness with my children in the same way. Also, if I’m with my closest girlfriends, we get chatting loud and high pitched as well. It’s when I feel my most authentic self, when I’m happy. Great post!

    • Oh yes! I forgot the hugging!!!!! 😉

  3. It’s funny — when I first began reading, I was thinking about having gratitude for one’s own life, for how lucky we are for all the things we have, etc. Not specifically in response to gifts! And I was wondering how it was that we can fake gratitude for our lives as a whole, and how to find the genuine among the fake… or even if we really KNOW the genuine from the fake ourselves! Because sometimes faking gratitude can lead to real gratitude, right?! I have numerous Facebook friends who vow to only post the positives in their lives, and keep the negatives to themselves… and I think things like this contribute to false expectations of life from the onlookers, and even contribute to self-judgement and guilt… when really, they are just faking it. Oh, I could go on! I’m wondering, though, if you had thought about ‘faking gratitude’ in life aside from gift-giving?

    • Absolutely. Gratitude is not posting the positives’ on Facebook or sharing the amazing things that we bought/did during coffee dates with girlfriends. This is when gratitude becomes words …… something we say/post ……. which can totally be faked or shining the spotlight on only one part of life or total denial! Some are a fan of “faking it till we make it” with gratitude but that is not my style.
      What I am interested in, from a coaching perspective, is a client’s feeling state. Do they feel it, or is it just hollow words? Is it the feeling state where the wonders of gratitude truly impact client’s lives? Or are they being “nice” about their own life?
      Gratitude is accepting what is, rather than what is not. It is understanding how we talk ourselves into the good stuff and the bad stuff with our thinking. When we start to see through the layers of thought we have placed between us and the world (and our loved ones) gratitude feelings are allowed to flow.



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