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