Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thank you!

A week ago today I started something that turned into quite an interesting “experiment” of sorts. I prefer not to use the term “experiment” since it was not begun for exploration purposes and I feel such terminology belittles the true purpose behind it; however, the responses I received in return did intrigue me and left me hypothesizing possible conclusions. Allow me to explain what happened…

Thursday evening I found myself reading some more of the book I’m currently reading: The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M.D. It’s a slightly older text (copyright 1978), but it is still a well-known and highly read “self-help” type book. One of my supervisors from the past had mentioned how she read the book during her graduate studies and it has forever changed her life. I’ll admit, it is a good book and it was the first line of the whole book that drew me in, “Life is difficult.” Short, simple, and yet so true. So on Thursday evening as I was reading another section of the text I found myself thinking about a close friend of mine and it got me to thinking about how important she was to me and how grateful I was for her friendship. I was moved to let her know that at that very moment, so I jumped up from my chair, went to the computer and simple emailed her with “thank you!” Nothing more, nothing less. No explanation, merely a sign of appreciation. Sure, at the moment I was thankful for something that the book was talking about that led me to thinking about her, but in the matter of time it took me to get to the computer, bring up my email, type that short big of text in the email and put her email address in, my mind had thought of many, many more reasons for which I was thankful for her in my life—things she had done for me, the type of person/friend she was for me, etc. So I felt that writing out “thank you for _______” would limit my thanks, so instead I left it open-ended.

I sent that first email at 8 PM. It was around 9:30 PM that I found myself thinking about the email, and reading more into the book that I thought, “I have so many other people I’m grateful for, why not email a couple more people.” As I got to my to my email to begin thanking some more people I found a response email from my original “thank you” email. My friend had responded back with “HA. I don’t know what for, but your welcome.” Just reading it was intriguing to me. I found it interesting to see how someone would respond to a “thank you” that they were uncertain for what the appreciation was being expressed for.

As I became fascinated by the thoughts of how people might respond to a “thank you” that they felt uncertain for it’s merit, I realized why stop at thanking 5 or 10 close friends? Why not thank as many as I can this evening? I mean I am thankful for basically each and every person listed in my email address book for one reason or another, so why not thank them.

I think it is important to note that during these thoughts I was fully aware of the fact that this was an idea with a basis and meaningful foundation of gratitude. Sure, I was looking forward to seeing how one might respond to a seemingly random “thank you” but I made sure to not lose my focus during all the emailing.

So, at 9:30 PM I began going person by person through my email address book and sending personal emails to almost everyone in my address book. The body of the email included a two-word phrase: “thank you!” BUT the thoughts behind the thanks were specific. For each person I inputted into an email, I would take the time to thing of what I was thanking them personally for.

I found myself emailing people I talk to on a daily basis and others that I haven’t talked to in months, if not years. For some people, my purpose behind the thanks came to mind immediately, for others who I might have had limited contact with recently, I might have had to take the time it took to type out the “thank you” before my purpose of appreciation came to mind, but I did not allow myself to hit “send” without having a thankful thought in mind. With some people, I had so many thoughts of “thanks” that I had accidentally hit “send” before the computer even got the “thank you!” pasted into the body…HA! With those people, they accidentally got two emails from me: 1) the first being blank in the body, and 2) the second having the “thank you”. Luckily I only did this twice…I got better at making sure the text had completely pasted into the body before I hit “send”…HA!

So within a matter of time I had gone through my email address book and had sent off 111 personal “thank you” emails. It was a good feeling knowing I’d shared my appreciation with some of the people who had/have impacted my life.

It didn’t take long for the curiosity of mankind to begin emailing me back. Matter of fact, some of the first responses came in while I was still emailing others. Below I have included the responses I have gotten to this point. I have left off names of individuals, but I have placed a “F” or “M” before each response in order to identify the individual’s gender. [Note: I always feel demographics, such as gender, are interesting to consider when looking at information and making hypotheses]. I’ve divided the responses up by the days I received them, so you can see how quickly people might have found themselves curious about the thanks and wanted to address it.

(f) HA. I don't know what for, but your welcome.
(f) huh?
(m) For what?
(f) no, thank you!
(f) For What?
(m) you're welcome!!
(m) You're welcome...but for what? :)
(f) For what?
(f) your welcome!! (but I don't know what for) =) So thank YOU!!

(f) thank you for what? oh, and hi missouri! :-) Remember that one time that you were amazing and picked me up from the airport and then (wonders to be told) dropped me off at the Greyhound station. hee hee i love you!
(f) For what?
(f) For what?
(f) huh? what for?
(f) you are welcome....but ummm what did I do?
(f) Not real sure why you are thanking me.. lol.. but whatever it was for .. ok
(m) i'm confused, for what sug?
(f) Hey Girl! How are you?? I'm about to leave for Florida, but I hope you're doing well. Just wondering about the thank you email. Not sure what I did but, you're welcome :)
(f) You're welcome! What did I do???? :)
(f) huh????
(f) -----------
(m) What did I do that warrents a thank you?
(f) um, you're welcome. but what am i being thanked for?
(f) what was this thank you for?
(f) Hi Kim! How are you doing? Great to hear from you. not sure the merit of "thank you" just wondering. God Bless
(f) For what?
(f) why did you send me an e-mail saying "thank you?"

(f) For what???!?!?!

(f) Sure! Did I do something?

I find it interesting to look at the comments and think about how so many people responded with “for what” or “huh.” Could this mean that person feels as if they did nothing to warrant a sense of appreciation? Or could that person be an individual that likes details and specifics and merely accepting the thanks is enough for them, because they feel they need to know the act/behavior that is worthy of the thanks—in efforts to reinforce such an act/behavior.

What about those the “you’re welcome” responses? Is that a sign of confidence? Could it be someone trying to add humor to a situation that they feel could be too sentimental? Or where they merely taught as a child to always follow “thank you” with “you’re welcome” in order to have proper manners?

Then there's the people that responded back by thanking me. Could it be that these people had a sense of understanding in what I was doing and they wanted to thank me as well for something? Could it be that these people felt it "necessary" to thank me (since I'd just thanked them) out of a sense of reciprocity? Could it be that these people feel as if they can't accept a thanks, so they return it instead (i.e. like those who feel they can't accept love for their selves, but rather they will give it toward others)?

Of course, we really can’t draw any conclusions about specific people based on the responses, but it is interesting to see how when a large number of people are all faced with identical situations, such as a “random” email saying nothing more than “thank you” they tend to respond in similar manners.

I purposely left one response comment out from above in the listed comments. It is where the (f) -----------" is placed. That comment was one that cracked me up! I literally was laughing out loud when I read it. This friend knows me ALL too well apparently (and the funny part is that I haven’t seen this person in about 6 years, and only recently re-established communication with her). Here is her response to my “thank you”:

(f) Well, I see you finally got the million dollar check I sent you for Christmas! So, is this another one of your 'experments"? See how people respond and then psychoanalyze them??? You know, as I was driving to work today I was thinking about our freshman year (doesn't that seem like FOREVER ago) and just had to laugh at all the fun we had. Remember our "dance" party that we taped in secret??? That was fun stuff................anyways--THANK YOU! Sometime soon I am going to sit down and type you an email because we need to stay in touch. Love you girl!

HA HA HA HA! Funny how she knows me so well!

I would like to conclude with two things…

1) For the many of you who responded with “for what” or “huh” or any other questioning nature of a response, I do not mind telling you (or anyone else that I emailed and thanked, for that matter) what my thoughts of thanks for you were when I was emailing you originally. If you want to hear them, feel free to contact me from this point on and ask and I’ll let you know.

2) Finally, I have already had one person contact me and tell me that they wanted to do the same thing, and email people in their life that they are thankful for. I said, “go for it!” I’m all about it. I would like to encourage anyone else that would like to do a similar sort of thing to “go for it!” But I would also like to encourage each and everyone of you to tell at least one person you’re thankful for merely that, “thank you!” You don’t have to explain it to them, or go into detail if you don’t want to (unless they hound you about it—as some do…HA!), but just pass along some thanks. Sure, maybe you’re like my one friend that I talked to about this, and she said, “but that’s you’re kind of thing. I don’t do stuff like that.” Well, hey, maybe it’s your time to try it! I promise that it doesn’t hurt and people won’t make fun of you for thanking them! =)

I’ll end with this…



Hannah Jensen said...

you are so right. gratitude is such an underexpressed emotion. so thanks for doing this little expression experiement. good thoughts.

Chris said...

When you say that you'll let us all know what specifically you had in mind when you thanked us if we would ask, I guess the asking that came in the response to the "thank you" doesn't count, huh?

So what have you concluded from your findings? It sounds to me like you have discovered that there is a difference between thanks and appreciation. Thanks tends to be fairly event-specific, thus prompting an event-specific inquiry from most people when they are faced with an unexpected "thank you." Appreciation tends to be more generalized. For instance, I imagine that if your email would have said "I appreciate you," you would have gotten more "thank yous" in return, rather than the old, "what did I do?" Whadaya think?

And am I the only guy that uses smileys? :o(

FeedingYourMind said...



When I first read your comment my immediate response was to go delete it. That's because I thought, what a GREAT idea: email out with "I appreciate you" and see if the responses would be different. But then I thought, no, with the random "thank you's" having just gone out, people would be on to me and it would throw any hopes of getting TRUE results that hadn't been influenced.

Sooo...anyone else wanna do it and let me know how it turns out!? ;)

As for my own findings: Not much yet, but I liked the thought of "thank you's" being more event-specific rather than a sign of appreciation. I hadn't thought of it that way, but it makes sense.

However, when I emailed each person, as I think back to those reasons for thanking them, I think most (if not all) were event(s) specific. This isn't to say I don't appreciate many (if not all...HA!) of these individuals overall as individuals.

As for had I sent "I appreciate you"...I think the responses would have been highly influenced with feelings of reciprocity. I feel that "I appreciate you" is viewed more as a compliment than "thank you" is (not that thanking someone isn't complimenting them), and with the way human nature seems to go, people would feel a sense of needing to return with a compliment. "Whadaya think?"

So I guess had I emailed you with "I appreciate you" your response would have been different?

And yes, you were the only male to use a smiley face (Note: YOU are the one who has chosen to identify your response email here, not me...HA!). But I'm sure it probably has to do with your educational background and your understanding of the importance of emotions and being able to pick-up on and read emotions during communication--hence the reasons for your using emoticons! ;)