Learning How to say Thanks

Researchers have proven what most parents probably knew instinctively: gratitude doesn’t come naturally. In her book entitled “The Gift of Thanks,” Margaret Visser cites a study which observed how parents teach their children to say “hi,” “thanks,” and good-bye.” The children in the study spontaneously said “hi” 27 percent of the time, “good-bye” 25 percent of the time, and “thanks” 7 percent of the time. Parents had to prompt their children to say “hi” 28 percent of the time, “good-bye” 33 percent of the time, and “thanks” 51 percent of the time.

In conclusion, children had a much more difficult time learning to say “thanks.” Most children have to learn to say “thank you” even before they know what it means. Visser states, “Eventually, when [children] have matured and been further educated, they will come to be able to feel the emotion that the words express. The words come first, the feelings later.” Perhaps this applies to adults too!

Based on this research Visser concludes that learning to be thankful involves a steep learning curve. She writes, “In our culture thanksgiving is believed to be, for most children, the very last of basic social graces they acquire … .Children have to be ‘brought up’ to say they are grateful. The verb is passive: they are brought up, they do not bring themselves.”

Visser also notes that, although we have to grow into the practice of thanksgiving, once we finally learn to be grateful, we seldom forget it: “Such phrases [like ‘thank you’] become so ingrained in us that they last when almost everything else has been forgotten. In states of aphasia, or in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, these little phrases often survive the shipwreck of other memories.”

Margaret Visser, “The Gift of Thanks” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), pp. 8-15


By the way can I say thanks to all who remembered my birthday! The cards were great and the expressions of encoragement were much appreciated! I can wait to walk on the treadmill that you gave me. I have no excuse not to be skinny and healthy! Thanks!


Pastor Phil