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Toward a Language of Gratitude: My Problem with Saying ‘No Problem’

How Gratitude and Kindness Go Together for Brain-Changing Happiness

“Thanks for being there for me yesterday. It really helped to talk with you.”

“No problem.”

“The flowers are really beautiful! Thanks for bringing them.”

“No problem.”

“I appreciate the ride to the airport.”

“No problem.”

In each of these interactions, there is something offered and gratitude expressed. Yet the giver does not appear to receive the gratitude. There is a lost opportunity for a deeper flow of giving and receiving.

You may wonder what I am talking about. Saying “no problem” lets the recipient know that everything is ok. It was not an inconvenience. You are not beholden to me. I didn’t mind doing it. Or, as the French say, “de rien.”

In French class, I was taught that “de rien” means “thank you.” But it literally means, “It was nothing,” which is similar to “no problem.” So what’s my problem with “no problem”?

When someone responds to me with “No problem” or some version of it (“It was nothing; don’t mention it”), I feel that my gratitude has fallen flat. I was not received in any deep or meaningful way. I am left with a somewhat cold and distant feeling.

“No problem” is not an optimal way to acknowledge gratitude. It does not touch our deepest longing to give and receive love and caring. It does not build intimacy.

Another French response to an expression of gratitude is “c’est moi,” which means, “the pleasure’s mine.” This moves toward an intimacy-building response, but doesn’t go all the way, especially if said in a rote or mechanical way. “It’s my pleasure” reveals some of the feeling of the giver — “I felt good to do that for you!” But a more meaningful flow of connection may be created if we become a little more revealing of our deeper feelings when someone expresses gratitude.

Here are some possibilities from my earlier examples:

“Thanks for being there for me yesterday. It really helped to talk with you.”

“I appreciate your saying that. I felt good that you were so open with me and talked about something that was so personal. I appreciated your trusting me.”

“The flowers are really beautiful! Thanks for bringing them.”

“I’m really glad you like them. I love making you happy and seeing you smile.”

“I appreciate the ride to the airport.”

“I’m happy to take you. You give a lot to me and it feels good to do something to help you.”

Of course, the feeling behind the words is more important than the words themselves. But words make a difference. Cultivating a language that supports gratitude can deepen the intimacy we’re longing for.

The next time someone expresses gratitude to you, be mindful of how you feel. Pause a moment before responding automatically. Take a breath. What do you notice inside? See what words might come from your heart — and if it’s OK to take a risk to be a little vulnerable and allow that tender part of you to be seen.

Relationships can deepen as we express genuine gratitude to each other and respond to expressions of gratitude from an open-hearted place. Expanding and relishing the experience of gratitude also helps rewire our brain in positive ways, as explored by Dr. Rick Hanson in Hardwiring Happiness.

Please don’t criticize yourself for saying “No problem.” Sometimes I’ll find myself saying “no problem” in casual situations. A friend calls me to say he’ll be late for lunch and I respond “no problem.” Or I’ll simply say “you’re welcome,” such as when someone says “thanks” when I hold open a door open or pick up a hat they dropped and hand it to them.

In our busy lives, we may miss precious opportunities to meet caring moments with kindness and sensitivity, which connects us more deeply with each other. Next time you’re confronted with an opportunity where you would normally say “no problem,” try something else instead and see how it works.

Toward a Language of Gratitude: My Problem with Saying ‘No Problem’


John Amodeo, PhD

Dancing with FireJohn Amodeo, PhD, MFT, is the author of the award-winning book, Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships. His other books include The Authentic Heart and Love & Betrayal. He has been a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco area for over thirty-five years, has conducted workshops internationally on relationships and couples therapy, and has appeared on CNN, Donahue, and New Dimensions Radio. For more information, articles, and free videos, visit his website at: www.johnamodeo.com.


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APA Reference
Amodeo, J. (2018). Toward a Language of Gratitude: My Problem with Saying ‘No Problem’. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 7, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/my-problem-with-saying-no-problem-toward-a-language-of-gratitude/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Dec 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.