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!

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