The Power of “Thank You”

I spent a few months in Ukraine, working with an outsourcing team there. Before the trip, I downloaded an app to help me learn some Ukrainian.

After eating in a restaurant with a friend, I told the waitress “Дякую,” (Dya-kyoo), which is Ukrainian for “Thank you.” My friend told me,

No no, don’t say that. Say “Спасибо” (spy-see-ba). Nobody speaks Ukrainian. We all speak russian in Kyiv.

The next time I was out to eat (I love borscht!), I told the waiter, “Спасибо.”

The waiter said,

“No, say Дякую! We are in Ukraine, not Russia! Speak Ukranian!”

From that point on, I simply said “Thank You.” Everyone knew what I meant and nobody got upset.

This place, in Mariupol, had great Borscht.

When I worked at Facebook, I got in the habit of saying, “Thank You!” to the people in the cafeteria who made the food. It felt too transactional to me, to show up at a counter where food was made, and just take it, or ask the person behind the counter to serve me, without showing gratitude.

You’d be surprised how effective “Thank you” is.

Recently, during lunch with my wife at Yahoo, I told a woman at the salar bar “Thank You”, as I scooped up some spinach.

“Thanks for saying that,” she said. “It means a lot to me.”

My cheeks went red. My face was covered in an involuntary smile, and lunch was all the more delicious. Everything tastes better with gratitude.

I found myself wondering why people don’t say “Thank you” more often.

My wife and I posing for a selfie with Marissa Mayer at Yahoo Christmas Party 2013.

This afternoon, I went to a taco truck for lunch.

I ordered, practicing my spanish as usual. There were two police officers standing near by, talking to a man they’d pulled over.

I’ve read a lot about police brutality lately, as well as police officers who were killed in the line of duty. I feel really upset when I read about police officers killing an unarmed person, because it feels unfair and wrong, the powerful stepping on the powerless.

But while I was waiting there at the Taco Truck, I wanted to buy the officers cokes.

“Why,” I thought to myself. “Why does this feel like the right move?”

The rational mind did its best to predict possible future consequences from such an action. “People who are calm are less likely to make mistakes,” I thought. “Police who are happy and feel appreciated are probably less likely to make bad choices.”

Was I just rationalizing an impulse? Or was I reasoning?

It seemed like a bad idea to approach officers who were busy with someone — especially if it wasn’t going well for that someone. The guy they were talking to seemed fine. I watched one of the officers raise an empty bottle of vodka, and wondered what happened. The guy didn’t look drunk, and they weren’t breathalyzing him.

I told myself getting involved was a bad idea. The whole time, my intuition kept screaming, do this, do this.

I got my tacos, and started to walk towards my car. I felt nervous, like I used to feel before asking a girl out on a date.

Was I afraid of being rejected? Is this why people don’t say “thank you” more often?

One of the officers started to drive away. I waved to him, as I walked towards him. I kept my hands visible.

He rolled down his windows and said, in a friendly voice, “Hello!”

“Thanks for what you do. That’s all.” I said, and smiled.

“Thanks man,” he said. “It means a lot.” He drove off.

They say when man has meaning he can endure anything. I’ve found creating my own meaning to be more reliable than trying to make sense of other people’s meanings. I’m at a point where I can feel grateful that there is oxygen for me to breathe, because wearing a tank all the time would be awful.

That gratitude makes it easier for me to own my mistakes and work on my failings. A constant background sense of gratitude helps me keep things in perspective, and focus on improving what I can, rather than complaining about what I can’t.

Try it out and see how it feels. No need to thank me 🙂

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