The Appreciation Paradox

Often, when some­one thanks me, I find myself say­ing “Don’t men­tion it” or “No need to thank me”. Yet when some­one does­n’t thank me for a favour, I feel like I’m being tak­en advan­tage of.

It’s a fun­ny thing that I feel like a thank-you is unnec­es­sary only after some­one has said it. Maybe it’s because as long as the per­son appre­ci­ates the favour, that’s all that mat­ters.

It’s sim­i­lar to the way Pat once offered to let me stay with him and Jen if I ever find myself with­out a job and a house. I’d prob­a­bly nev­er take him up on the offer because I nev­er want to be a bur­den any­one. At the same time, he knows this and does­n’t expect me to take him up on it, but he offered any­way because he knows I would­n’t take it for grant­ed, and would still be hap­py to take me in if the sit­u­a­tion war­rant­ed it.

Perhaps such acts become more of an acknowl­edg­ment than a prac­ti­cal ges­ture. As long as I know that some­one is appre­cia­tive and rec­og­nizes a favour, that’s all that mat­ters. But real­ly, isn’t that what a thank you is — an acknowl­edg­ment through thanks? At the same time, with­out a thank you, how would we know that some­one is appre­cia­tive?

It’s like the act itself is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly nec­es­sary and unnec­es­sary.


  1. So… if you thank me, should I give thanks for your thought­ful nature and, if so, should you thank me for my hav­ing appre­ci­at­ed your thank­ful­ness, and, if so …

    Perhaps each of us should con­tem­plate the wis­dom of one of Jeff’s dis­tant ances­tors, Confucious who wrote long ago: “Act with Kindness, but do not expect grat­i­tude.”

    After all, some­times a “pair‑o’-ducks” is just too fowl a beast to con­tem­plate in the mid after­noon.


    • It’s fun­ny that it was Confucius who said such a thing, as his philoso­phies go against many Taoist ideas, when the first two lines of verse 38 of the Tao Te Ching are, “To give with­out seek­ing reward/To help with­out think­ing it is vir­tu­ous — there­in lies the great virtue”.

      (It took me a long time to wrap my head around what a “pair ‘o ducks” is)

  2. This is how I inter­pret Wu Wei. The unmo­ti­vat­ed act. I think expect­ing an acknowl­edg­ment may lead to dis­ap­point­ments.

    Take my dad ‘n I for exam­ple. What we do for each oth­er is pure­ly with­out moti­va­tions or want­i­ng for rewards. We NEVER thank each oth­er. It’s just one of those things we do and don’t think much about it. However this is a bit dif­fer­ent it comes to deal­ing with oth­er peo­ple. But as a rule, I just don’t expect thank yous. I think a thank-you is mere­ly a form of for­mal­i­ty than any­thing else these days. But, it’s eas­i­er said than done.

    • Interesting. Perhaps you and your dad have reached a point of famil­iar­i­ty where both of you acknowl­edge and appre­ci­ate any help with­out need­ing to say a word. This may be why you say it’s dif­fer­ent with oth­er peo­ple.

      The thing is, I don’t expect an acknowl­edg­ment. Or do I? I’m slight­ly dis­ap­point­ed when I don’t get one, and as soon as I do, I feel it unnec­es­sary.

  3. Parents make their small kids to get into the habit of say­ing thanky­ou to them, just so the kids grow up to be polite. As the kids grow up they don’t say thanky­ou to their par­ents that often. I think it’s real­ly not nec­es­sary when you’re with peo­ple close to you. It’s all under­stood.

    But when we’re with peo­ple not that close, thanky­ous are nec­es­sary as appre­ci­a­tions are not guar­an­teed.

    Confucius’s writ­ings are often incon­sis­tent, they’re like laws rather than a school of philoso­phies. So I’m not sur­prised if some are against Taoism and some are like Taoist ideas.

    • I think for me, some­thing like thanks is nev­er sim­ply “under­stood”. It’s eas­i­ly tak­en for grant­ed, and I cer­tain­ly used to be guilty of this when I was younger. Maybe this is why I make a note to thank some­one.

  4. I love and relate to this post. Working in retail is the per­fect exam­ple of how so many peo­ple can take small ser­vices for grant­ed. This infu­ri­ates me, which seems odd because it almost seems part of my job descrip­tion to pro­vide a ser­vice and there­fore not expect a ‘thanks’ at the end of the day. Maybe it is an ego trip, that peo­ple say they are appre­cia­tive of what you have done for them. Or maybe I’m just self­ish like that? haha. Maybe I’m in the wrong pro­fes­sion.. ouch!

    • There’s def­i­nite­ly a bal­ance for appre­ci­a­tion in things like retail. Even if you’re being paid for a job, it does­n’t enti­tle some­one to walk all over you. That line is quite fine some­times. If you’re look­ing for ful­fill­ment through appre­ci­a­tion though, I don’t think retail is the way to go!

Leave a Reply