What do people thank you for?

My friend Aidan recently asked a provocative question: what do people thank you for?

I’ve been pondering this for the couple of weeks since I read it.  The answer does not come to me that quickly.  That may be because I handle compliments poorly and generally react with redirection and discomfort or maybe it’s because the entire topic of being thanked makes me feel self-indulgent.  Even writing about it makes me feel a little uneasy, like I’m tooting my own horn.  But I’m forging ahead, because I do think there’s a lot of value in this question.

The value, of course, is in being aware of that which we do to which others respond.  And using that awareness to guide how we spend our time.  What people thank us for is probably something we ought to do more of.  At least that’s how I think about this.

People thank me for talking openly about my experience of life.  That is diffuse and hard to articulate, and sounds both enormous and tiny.  But more often than not, people say thank you for sharing my heartache at life’s small passages, for being honest about things that are hard, for keeping my finger on the pulse of that which hurts in daily life (for me, that’s time’s passage).

People thank me for taking pictures of the sky.

People thank me for talking about books I love.

What’s interesting, when I think about the things people thank me for, are they are all things I worry I do too much of.  I fret that I’m a broken record: another blog post about feeling sorrow mixed with joy at the world’s smallest experiences?  another Instagram photograph of the sunset from my office window?  another time asking “so, what are you reading?” at the baseball field?  And yet these things I worry I do too often are the things that people seem to appreciate.

This worrying about saying or doing too often that which objectively the world seems to appreciate is a dissonance I experience at a very deep level.  It reminds me of the feeling I have, more often than I like, that I am just too much myself.  Gail Caldwell called it feeling like “the volume of the world had been turned up a notch” and that has always made sense to me.

Even as I write this, with a cloudy, pale sunset to my left and my son and husband in the room to my right, I feel slight goosebumps up and down my arms.  Is this too messy to share, too self-congratulatory?  Am I revealing all the ways in which I’m too heavy, too serious, too sensitive, by sharing this?  I’m going to go ahead and hit publish because I think this is precisely the kind of honesty that people seem to react to, but for what it’s worth, it is still a complicated thing for me.

I think Aidan’s question is an excellent one, and likely points us to our true calling, or at least to the ways in which we can be most helpful to others in the world.  There’s discomfort in both the asking and the answering, at least for me, but I suspect that’s part of the value of the exercise.  Here I go.  Honest and candid, and a sunset, and a book, too (book review coming on Wednesday!).

What do people thank you for?

13 thoughts on “What do people thank you for?”

  1. People thank me for my work as a doctor. One lady kissed me on the cheek and said, “You’re a dream come true!” which made me laugh because it’s over the top. Usually, it’s the kindest and most observant patients who are the most grateful, so I consider it at least a much a reflection on their own character as on my own work.

    I reached an unconscious milestone the first time someone thanked me for my writing. A bookseller at the World Fantasy Convention asked me my name, then clasped my hand and said, “Oh, yes. Thank you for your story!”

    On a lighter note, I force my children to thank me if I do something nice for them (I can hear their little voices chanting in a monotone as I write this), and I make sure to thank them and my husband in return.

    Thank you, Lindsay, for sharing your own insecurity about the very things people treasure. In my mind, you’re surrounded by non-stop friendship and adulation, so it’s nice to know that you wonder if you’re repeating yourself and experience doubt before you click publish. Wow, you’re human! 😉

  2. I think when people thank you for your honesty and shared vulnerability it is because you give something that is craved, and it is craved not only once or twice or every other month but, because of our wiring, it is something we need to hear over and over again, just like you are experiencing the pain of times passage all over again. So there is value in repetition, so to say! 😉

    My husband thanks me for taking care of him and our boy, and for cooking specifically. I also think people appreciate a smile and some kind words, which I try to give whenever I can. Beyond that, your question makes me think what else I could, or want to do? Not just so that people thank me, but to create meaning? You see, insecurity here, too.

  3. Thank YOU … and I assure you, there is a lot of insecurity and self-doubt and ample humanity here! ox

  4. I hear you on this. I wonder if there’s something further to explore about why this question prompts insecurity, at least in me … and, it sounds like, in you, too! xox

  5. That really is an excellent question. I think your answer is spot as I’ve gotten to know you these past few years. (How many?? Probably 4? I was pregnant with Nate in Boston.) I have to think about my answer.

  6. What a great question. And yes, I often am thankful for your honesty, your photos of sunsets, your thoughtful writing about the glory and the pain of life. Will have to ponder what people thank me for. xo

  7. I don’t know how to answer. My first thought was that I’m thanked quite a bit for doing the laundry. How sad is that? But I guess I’m also often thanked for book recommendations;). Can’t wait to see what you’re reviewing on Wednesday. I just finished Eligible and loved it.

  8. This is a fantastic question! It stops even the busiest people in their tracks.

    After a long period of contemplation, debating, and loads of time full of vacillate ideas, I think I have come up with two things people thank me for. 1, celebrating differences and never “judging” people. I feel that everyone deserves equal respect and freedom to express their opinions. 2, I think people appreciate my love for sharing my outlook on life. I make it a habit to never stop improving and developing my character. I think people appreciate me when I try to help them do the same.

    Thanks so much for this AMAZING post!

  9. Thank you for sharing your soul reflections so openly and honestly. People thank me for listening fully, for dancing freely, and for washing the dishes. xo

  10. What a great question! I’m going to ponder this and include my answer in an upcoming blog post, with a shout out to you for getting me to think about it.

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