Why we want “Thank You” so badly and why we shouldn’t


I doubt that there is something that turns human beings, and possibly God, as on as heartfelt gratitude. This conclusion can be reached by anyone; it’s so very obvious. While the greatest exhortation in the Christian Bible is, “Give ‘thanks’ to the Lord for He is good, for His love endures forever,” someone put it more forcefully, “A person who is not grateful is not better than a great fool.” To say the least, it is truly right and just that we give thanks for every positive gesture shown us – in kind and/or in cash. The reason is not far-fetched: although the disposition to do good could come naturally, the actual act of goodness, or better put, ‘loving kindness’, demand some sacrifice on the part of the doer.


the question of gratitude raises some pertinent concerns, especially as it bothers on why we crave it so badly, and why it appears that our subsequent rendition of ‘loving kindness’ is dependent on how much gratitude we got in the previous episodes.

To illustrate: a dependant gets his school fees once from an uncle, and because he wasn’t grateful at all or wasn’t grateful enough (from his uncle’s judgment), he never gets subsequent school fees. Funnily enough, this uncle now brands him an ingrate, and uses him as a worthwhile example whenever a tale of ingratitude needs to be told. And then it didn’t end there. This uncle concludes, based on this experience, that nieces and nephews are ingrates, and now refuses to help others. How did things get this bad?

And don’t misunderstand me here, gratitude forever remains a great attitude, and we’re always turned on by it when we occupy the receiving end – even when we pretend to say, “Don’t mention it.” In truth, would you have found it funny if he/she didn’t mention it in the first place? I doubt.

The gratitude problem largely derives from motif or intention. Put differently, it largely depends on the why of our giving. If giving stems from ulterior motif, then one gets to feel bad or even terrible when one’s expectation is cut short. Moreover, if it stems from charity, then the presence or absence of ‘Thank You’ makes little or no difference. Pay attention to my usage of charity; it means everything as far as understanding my point of view is concerned. Of course, our application of the term to most giving gestures constitutes a gross abuse of the term. They may best qualify as philanthropy; charity belongs in a different sphere – ‘Godsphere’. And the difference between philanthropy and charity lies in the why of the giving. In philanthropy, the giver gives ‘just’ to salvage the human situation; the credit is his or hers. In charity, the giver gives because he was first given and was commanded by this ‘First Giver’ to give; the credit goes to the One who first gave, and who left the command. The one giving in obedience to this command is nothing but an instrument in the hands of God.

Seen thus, one can already say that the unbridled craving for gratitude, which seems to be characteristic of our kind and cash gestures, is borne out of anything else but charity. Yes, in charity, appropriating gratitude to oneself is a case of usurping that which belongs to another; a sort of idolatry in this case, wherein that which rightfully belongs to God is taken for oneself. However, given that the actor was God’s agency, he could only receive, never to demand, thanks on behalf of God, and stating that to be the case.

Two examples will suffice here. When Jesus complained about the ingratitude of the other nine Jewish lepers that didn’t show up to give thanks, as against the Samaritan that showed up, he asked: Why have they not come to give praise to God? It is always to God. And did he actually complain? Not really, as we know Jesus to always seize given opportunities to teach. Should the one leper not have showed up to give thanks, he probably wouldn’t have talked about it. A second example can be found with the Angel Raphael on the successful completion of his mission to Tobit’s family. On their return from Ecbatana to recover the debt owed Tobit and to help marry Sarah for Tobias, Tobit asked his son Tobias to give a sizeable portion of the goods to his kind company, Raphael. Raphael quickly disclosed his messenger identity and instructed that all thanks and praise and glory belong to God alone.

Finally, St. Josémaria said it best:

Do and disappear.