In a world that’s been taken over by emoticons, stickers, Viber groups, and Facebook chats, it’s easy for honesty and sincerity to take a backseat. Ironically, now that our days are filled with easier and more convenient ways to communicate, the quality of our personal connections have dwindled. Have you actually looked someone in the eye and apologized in the last few weeks? When was the last time you thanked someone—truly thanked someone—in person and from the heart?
A little gratitude goes a long way
There are plenty of ways to express our thanks and apologies without actually using words—a simple Minions sticker smiling that adorable smile on screen is usually the weapon of choice online. While it’s hard to resist the call of those little yellow creatures in denim overalls and goggles, it’s just not the same as actually saying the words. Ever since we were little kids, our parents would urge us to mind our manners, often asking us what we should say after hurting our siblings or our friends. And whenever our favorite tita would hand us a huge playset for Christmas, our mothers would be right there behind us, whispering, “Now, sweetie, what will you say?” Saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry” has been hardwired into our brains from the moment we learned how to speak, but somewhere along the way, it became harder and harder to say the words. Sometimes, they even come out automatically without any emotion from deep within, so what happened?
“In the 21st century, with so many different ways to communicate without even using words – email, voicemail, text messaging – it’s amazing that people don’t routinely acknowledge the kindness of others in one way or another,” says Rebecca Cole, author of Flower Power and co-host of Surprise by Design from the Discovery Channel. A lot of us have forgotten to say ‘thank you’ for even the most mundane things, not realizing that those two little words have the power to change big things. The simplest courtesies such as receiving our orders from a waiter or getting directions from a stranger on the street deserve our thanks. We even forget that not only does hearing the words ‘thank you’ make the receiver feel appreciated, but it also makes the person saying it feel good as well. It’s basically a win-win situation, isn’t it?
“Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too,” says Francesca Gino, author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan. “I spend a lot of time working inside organizations and see teams working together to accomplish a task, usually with a deadline. Oftentimes, you don’t see the leaders going back and actually thanking the team members. Those are situations where expressions of gratitude from leaders could have wonderful effects,” the Harvard Business School associate professor continues.
A simple ‘thank you’ can save a life, brighten up a bad day, and even change the world. It makes the person hearing it want to return the favor, pay it forward, and be a better person. Just by thanking your husband for taking out the trash makes him feel truly loved, and merely appreciating your mother’s neatly packed lunch can help her get through the rest of her busy day. “My husband is now working for a start-up. I received flowers and a note from his company’s CEO thanking me for my understanding because my husband had been up all night working on a big project,” Gino shares. Moments like that one “really makes me think more carefully every time I am the one expressing gratitude to others. I don’t want to miss opportunities…I learned from my own research and now try to say ‘thank you’ much more often.”
It’s never too late to apologize
When it comes to saying sorry, on the other hand, our big egos and puffed up pride often get in the way. We may easily mutter the words without really meaning them, or worse, by being sarcastic about it. In apologizing, it’s important to know the impact it has on the people around us and the relationships we are in.
Every time you say “I’m sorry”, you are showing the other person that he or she is respected. It builds trust and mutual respect in a relationship, which means that you value the state of the relationship rather than your own ego. Apologizing properly also helps you move on from your mistakes after owning up to them, and in turn builds a strong foundation between parties. As long as you are sincere in your apology, saying sorry also lifts that burden off your chest as instant relief washes over you. You certainly don’t want to prolong any bad blood, do you? A proper apology will straighten everything out. According to psychologist Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid, “An effective apology doesn’t just heal the wound for the other person. It’ll dissolve your guilt, too.”
Still, it’s not all about saying “I’m sorry” just for the heck of it. “Apologizing can be really bad communication. There are people who apologize for everything, and it can be related to assertiveness and self-esteem issues. It can send subtle messages that my needs are not as important as yours,” says marital therapist Dr. Guy Grenier. “We shouldn’t apologize for our own needs, but we should apologize for being thoughtless or careless.”
“It’s not appropriate just keep saying ‘I’m sorry’ for everything,” says psychotherapist Catherine Morris. “It’s appropriate when you become aware that your partner is truly wounded. If you’re not sincerely sorry, it should invite some dialogue.” Basically, whenever we apologize, we have to truly mean it—and strive to change our behavior so that our mistakes won’t happen again. “When my daughter was young, she would do something and then very quickly say sorry. I would say that I’m more interested in seeing your behavior change,” Morris shares. “It’s easy to say sorry; it’s harder to spend the time to understand why you’ve hurt someone and to work on not hurting them again.”
In the end, apologizing heals wounds, and having an attitude of gratitude also makes you more appreciative and at peace with your own life. So why not start mending relationships and begin thanking someone today?
Cathy Dellosa Lo is a freelance writer by day and a geek by night. She constantly struggles between sniffing the novels lined up in her bookshelf and trying to whip up something unusual in the kitchen, much to the dismay of her loving husband. To this day, she still has not cooked a decent meal. She one day hopes to soar the skies as a superhero for her future children, but for now, she strongly believes in saving lives through her works in fiction. She also maintains a personal blog on her rookie misadventures as a noob wife at http://quirkylifeofthenoobwife.blogspot.com/