How often, when someone thanks us for something, do we respond with some variation of, “don’t worry about it,” or, “it’s nothing?” My yoga teacher, a beautiful and inspirational person who starts every class with thoughts to guide our practice for the day, first brought this issue to my attention. She confessed to having difficulty accepting gratitude. She was making an effort to pause, check her natural reaction, and instead respond with a simple, “you’re welcome.” To remind herself, she would accompany the words with a gesture of hand to heart.
The subject again came up at a medical conference and really got me thinking. In the health care setting, thanking can have particularly great significance. For the person who is doing the thanking, it isn’t “nothing.” Our natural inclination to be dismissive in the face of gratitude may feel, to the person expressing it, like a form of pushing away, a kind of rejection. Of course it isn’t meant that way, and is more likely to come from an honest place of being humble or perhaps even self-effacing.
The person giving the conference suggested a response of thanks in return. But this didn’t feel right to me. It may be away of getting the last word, and also may communicate rejection. Some form of “I’m glad I could help,” seems closer to the mark. But perhaps the exact words don’t matter as much as the feeling behind them.
There is much evidence that expressing gratitude is good for our mental health. It can be a form of meaningful connection, a kind of expression of love. Perhaps we need to be more mindful of the benefits, on both sides, of graciously receiving it.