My father-in-law was a really lovely man. Actually, both my mother-in-law and father-in-law were wonderful, but I’m going to talk about Jimmy today.
Jimmy loved his children with his entire being. When the grandbabies arrived, he could not do enough to make them happy. If some action would make one of his grandchildren smile, he would have considered it — no matter how outlandish the action.
Jimmy took care of us in a thousand different ways. But when I would try to thank him, he would turn away my thanks. He did not want to be thanked for doing something that he wanted to do. I insisted on thanking him anyway. I felt that he needed to know how important he was to our lives and that we knew and appreciated his importance.
Jimmy and I had many conversations that went: “Thank you, Jimmy, for doing this for us.” Brusque response: “You don’t need to thank me!” My response: “But I do need to thank you. I need you to know I appreciate you.” The conversation would generally end with his grumpy mumbling about not wanting thanks and my grumbling that he was going to get it anyway.
Why do we deflect appreciation when it is sent our way? I catch myself doing it when someone thanks me. Instead of graciously saying, “You’re welcome,” I say something to the effect that it was no effort, didn’t cost me anything, it did not matter, etc.
I researched appreciation and found a lot of material about why we need to be appreciative, why we need to give thanks and why we need to experience gratitude. But I found very little about why it can be so difficult to be the receiver of thanks, appreciation and gratitude.
This lack of information made me wonder:
1. When I deflect appreciation, is it because I do not trust the person’s sincerity? Do I believe he or she is saying something nice to get something from me?
2. When I turn away a gesture of thanks, is it simply because I’m too busy and distracted to recognize it for the gesture of kindness and generosity that it is?
3. Is it possible that I don’t feel worthy of a person’s appreciation?
4. Have I considered the need of the person expressing gratitude to voice his or her joy or appreciation?
I do not know the answer to why many of us have difficulty receiving gratitude. But I know that it is very important to be grateful. There are many studies that have proven the health and well-being benefits of being thankful.
If being appreciative makes us healthier, doesn’t it make sense that the ability to accept genuine appreciation should be good for us?
The website PsychCentral.com suggests that we experience the following when someone thanks us:
1. We believe we are valued.
2. We feel seen.
3. We feel liked.
4. We believe we are contributing.
None of these four experiences should be taken lightly. Our self-worth depends on all of them.
So, what does this all mean?
I guess it would make sense for us to look at our relationship with appreciation. Being thankful benefits our health and our sense of well-being. It might be an act of generosity to allow the people in our lives to give us their thanks and experience those same benefits.
The next time someone says “great job on that project,” “thank you for helping me” or “you make me happy,” maybe we should just allow ourselves to hear the compliment and feel good in that moment.
Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging.