Gratitude and friendship

Doing a favor can open a door to a new friendship
Next time you hold a door open for a stranger, consider this: Your simple action may jumpstart a beautiful friendship. It’s intuitive that doing a favor that evokes gratitude is likely to make the recipient more willing to do you a favor in return. There’s a cliché for that: You scratch my back, I scratch yours.It turns out, feeling grateful to someone who helps us can make us feel more connected to that helper. This can form the basis of a new relationship or strengthen an existing one.

However, in an article for Psychology Today, Arash Emamsadeh points out that some people are hesitant to show gratitude. They may feel silly or embarrassed or fear the other person will be uncomfortable. Sometimes they think the other person already knows they’re grateful or think the reason for thanks isn’t important enough.

An Australian study by Lisa Williams and Monica Bartlett found that its participants who received a gratitude note were more likely to share their contact information for the purposes of continuing a relationship than those who received a simple acknowledgement note without gratitude. Receiving the thank-you note gave participants a sense of warmth and friendliness that led them to invest in trying to meet the unknown sender.

In a University of California Santa Barbara study, college sorority sisters were more likely to feel close to the older sisters who gave them gifts and who responded well to the little sisters’ appreciation. This closeness continued over time.

There’s a theory that animals, including humans, may perform favors for those who are not relatives in the hope that the favors will be returned down the road. Known as reciprocal altruism, the theory defines altruistic acts as those that involve effort or difficulty for the giver but do something good for the recipient. Studies have shown that chimpanzees also engage in this kind of reciprocity.

But whether you are the helpful altruist or the grateful recipient, the shared emotion is gratitude. This two-way beneficial relationship helps us identify the people who respond to our needs. We are then more likely to respond to their needs and thus to bond with them.

“Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” – Harold S. Kushner

In her book, Letter to My Daughter, Maya Angelou writes, “A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.” It might take just one open door to find it.

Gratitude tips to keep in mind:

  • Being thanked increases the recipient’s feelings of warmth toward the person thanking them.
  • Thanking and being thanked can tighten the relationship between the two people.
  • Humans are not the only animals that do favors and feel gratitude.
  • Gratitude is an emotion shared by the giver and the recipient.

“A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.” – Maya Angelou

Six people you could say thanks to

Whether you are the helpful altruist or the grateful recipient, the shared emotion is gratitude. Gratitude, in part, is about recognizing there are people all around you who can be acknowledged and thanked.

  1. A parent or older relative: Send a note thanking them for their effort and support.
  2. Your sanitation truck driver: Tape a thank-you card or note to the lid of your trash can if your trash is picked up by hand.
  3. Your coworker: Leave an appreciative sticky note on their desk or at their station.
  4. Your pet: Throw a ball in the park, share a tasty treat, or just give them a nice long scratch behind the ears. Tell them out loud what makes you grateful to have them.
  5. A perfect stranger: When someone thanks you, say more than “no problem.” Add a short sentence about how you feel, like “It was my pleasure.” And smile.
  6. Yourself: Pat yourself on the back (or get yourself a treat) for something you did that was kind or difficult or took a long time. You deserve appreciation too!

Four direct and indirect ways to show gratitude

Gratitude is multi-faceted. It can be a feeling of appreciation expressed to people who’ve helped us. It can also be an overarching and perpetual sense of appreciation for the good stuff in our lives. Here are four ideas for expressing direct and indirect gratitude:

  • Make a point of holding a door open for everyone you meet today. House door, car door, store door. If the door opens automatically, let the other person go first. Catch their eye, smile, and watch them smile back.
  • Tape a note to the lid of your trash or recycling bin to thank your weekly picker-uppers for taking on this critical, stinky, job. A folded piece of paper will do great or go all out and leave a note card. (May not work in cities with trash trucks with automated load-lifters)
  • Next time someone thanks you, try saying more than “no problem.” Make your response more about what you got out of it: “It was my pleasure” or “I was happy to help you” or even “Helping you made me feel good.”
  • Text or call a friend you haven’t seen for a while to let them know you miss and appreciate them. Share a bit of news from your life to get the conversation going. But be sure to ask them about their lives as well. People like to talk about themselves.

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