Saying thank you has to be genuine and not merely lip-service. As a rule, worthy things are direct and true, flowing forth from our inner world. But when we say thank you, it is particularly important to be genuinely honest. When we say thank you only in order to seem well-mannered or because it will be beneficial to us, the recipient senses the fraud.
So how do we really say thank you?
The ability to say thank you (todah in Hebrew) comes from the sefirah of hod, which we usually translate as either thanksgiving (or acknowledgment). The inner dimension of hod is temimut, which means “simple sincerity.”
To give thanks, we have to be simply sincere. The more sophisticated we are, the more difficult it becomes to express genuine thanks. It is even scary to really give thanks. In our minds, when we thank others, we are exposing our weakness. We are afraid to reveal our dependence on others or to express our personal needs. We may possibly feel that by thanking others, we are admitting that we owe someone something and cannot pay our debt – capable only of saying thank you. A sophisticated person—even if good manners force him to give thanks—will find all sorts of ways to deny that anybody did him a favor. He will explain that in truth, the other person had no choice but to perform the act of kindness. A simply sincere person, on the other hand, will tell the truth as it is. You did me a favor. You put yourself out for me, you filled my need. Thank you!
For the thanks to be genuine, we have to recognize that someone performed an act of kindness for us. The sages say, “A good guest, what does he say? All the trouble to which the host went was for me” (Berachot 58a). The more we contemplate the good for which we are giving thanks, the more we can recognize it as good and give thanks with our whole hearts. We have to contemplate how important and heartwarming the act of kindness was and appreciate every detail of the act. For example, “Your cake came exactly when I needed it, it was beautiful and delicious, suited my preferences and brought me joy.”
It is important not to take acts of kindness for granted. We need to recognize how much trouble and effort went into them (while overcoming our tendency to minimize the difficulty and effort of others and to focus only on what is difficult for us). In addition, we need to develop an internal sense for identifying the deep emotional world hiding behind apparently simple deeds—how much the effort and willingness to help express true caring. We need to give thanks for that and reciprocate goodness for goodness.
The Joy of Giving Thanks
Gratitude is not merely a response to a favor done. It is a way of life. To recognize all the good that we receive, we have to do away with any sense of entitlement. When we internalize this concept, every act of kindness that we encounter arouses joy and gratitude inside us.
A person who feels that he is entitled to everything has nothing for which to give thanks. True thankfulness relates to what is above and beyond the call of duty. A person who feels entitled, with all his sophisticated justifications, lives in an eternal state of dissatisfaction. According to him, not only is there nothing for which he should be thankful, but he has plenty to complain about. He develops imaginary needs and is pained that he cannot fulfill them.
By contrast, a person who analyzes what he really needs and what he deserves with simple sincerity and honesty, discovers that he receives above and beyond his basic needs and that he has much for which to be thankful. Going deeper, he discovers how much his basic needs—family, friends, health, bread to eat and water to drink, basic clothing and a place to sleep—are huge gifts. They are great and precious presents, never to be taken for granted. Each and every one of them justifies a huge thank-you and fills the heart with joy. We must thank the Creator for each and every one of these gifts and also give thanks to all those who are part of the giving—our friends, family, and even our boss or customer. A person who knows that he is entitled to nothing is filled with gratitude. He lives a life of thanksgiving and his heart is always filled with joy.