Thankless Thinking

I’ve become aware recently there’s a phenomenon in our society that I call “thankless thinking”.

A couple of weeks back I’d been browsing through a shop and on impulse, as I was about to leave, I walked to the counter behind which the shop owner was sitting.

“Thank you!”, I said to her. “I’ve enjoyed looking around and love your window display.”

She looked up, apparently startled. There was a pause before she grinned broadly and said, “You know, I’ve had several people wander in today to look around but you’re the first person who has thanked me – for anything!”

We ended up chatting for a short time – passing from the strangeness of folk to the foibles of some customers, then through the story of her grand-daughter’s 21st birthday party to her plans for retirement.

As I left I found myself reflecting on how a simple thank you had led me into a warm conversation and a small piece of someone’s life story.

And I was reminded of an ‘experiment’ I conducted for myself many years ago, when I was travelling to and from school on a bus.

For several days in a row I counted how many people alighted from the bus during the trip – and the number of those who actually thanked the bus driver as they left. Fom memory the thankers were only 20% or so of the whole!

For that shopkeeper, a ‘thank you’ is probably the usual response (with some rare exceptions) when a transaction takes place and a customer actually buys something. And maybe bus drivers are thanked more often by passengers these days – at least I hope so.

But I’ve found myself wondering …

How frequently am I (and others like me)  infected with ‘thankless thinking’? When we don’t think to say thank you to someone for simply being present – for being in service to us. Or at least available to serve us in some way, even though we don’t take them up on it.

It’s not always easy to keep ‘looking for the good stuff’ on a day-to-day basis. Some days it’s hard to look at life or at those around us with an appreciative eye, let alone express that appreciation.

But even on a good day we often don’t say thank you to folk.

We don’t even think of it.

I’ve decided I’m going to try to eliminate ‘thankless thinking’ as much as I can from my life.

After all, a simple ‘thank you’ can certainly spread a little sunshine around – not only for other people, like that woman in the shop, but also for me.


  1. Ann Busby says:

    I love your article, Sue, saying, “Thank you” is as easy to give away as a smile, and you never know when it could make someone’s day. I, too, say thank you to my servers in restaurants, and even stop at the front desk to say that I enjoyed the service and the meal.

    I remember starting a conversation when a woman was helping me ring up my purchase at a department store, she was young, and so excited about going to her grandfather’s upcoming birthday party-probably 80 but I don’t remember, I just remember how elated she was, and I figured the next person who approached her would still receive that warm smile.

    Please keep writing stories like this-there is so much bad news in the world, and we are in such a hurry, that just taking a few minutes to be friendly to someone else can make a huge difference. Here is the states, they are going to be airing a show called “Boss Undercover,” or something close to that where several CEOs and Presidents went into their own companies as employees. Oprah had a couple of them on her show, and they found people who were cheerful, cared about their work, and quality, as well as encouraging the new (boss). It looks like a wonderful show, airing soon.

    Thanks again for making my day, cheers, Ann

  2. Hi Ann, and what a great story you’ve shared too! I love to think of that young woman in the department store continuing to spread the sunshine you’d helped to create for her that day. :) I wonder if “Boss Undercover” will air here in Australia at some point? It may well do, as most US shows do eventually. Or perhaps they’ll make an Aussie equivalent, who knows. :)

  3. Yet another gripping story about the power of kindness. Some years ago I was introduced to the book “Fish!” by Stephen Lundin, John Christensen and Harry Paul; In the book they suggest that to improve morale at work, you should “Have Fun”, “Be Present”, “”Choose your Attitude”, and “Make someone’s day”. (I wrote some articles on my blog about each, in case you’re interested)

    Of course, these are timeless principles that can be found in a myriad of books, articles, and even religious scripture. Yet it is so easy to let ‘busy-ness’ cloud our mind and adopt a ‘thoughtless thinking’ mode for most of our every day lives.

    Being aware of it is the first step to do something about it; well done in helping others become more aware of how far can a small ‘Thank You’ go in enriching our lives and those of others around us.

    • I agree totally that awareness is the key. And that a small act of kindness can indeed travel a long way – sometimes much further than we would dream could be the case! :)

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