The Thought Does Not Count

How many times have you told someone, especially Mate, It is the thought that counts.? I have a challenge for you. I say, The thought does not count. You up for a debate?


Why do you say it? What triggers this adage? How about a top three?

  • Your (birthday, anniversary, special occasion) was forgotten.
  • The job done for you rates a three on the ten-point scale.
  • The adage Close, but no cigar could be interchanged.


When you say it, are you…

  • wistful?
  • disappointed?
  • sarcastic?

 What else?

What are you leaving unsaid when you say it?

  • because you do not know what is appropriate.
  • because you did not find out what I wanted/needed.
  • because I do not want to hurt your feelings as much as you have hurt mine.


We are very forgiving of our children when they bring us the treasures they make from our prize flowers, ingredients from projects we have yet to begin and wildlife (either live or parts). For them, they were expressing their thoughts by associating the gift with the warm feeling of giving.

When we say It’s the thought that counts to them, we are appreciating their naïveté at choosing the appropriate gift. They do not have enough experience to understand gift-giving is an exercise in delighting the receiver rather than satisfying the magnanimity of the giver. After praising their effort, we must explain to them better solutions and how to arrive at them.

Adults Only

The well-packaged gift from an adult which in no way fits with our interests, lifestyle or desires does not meet with such forgiveness. The old adage often masks rancor. So, why is the blood boiling?

The adage is a classic example of irony. Irony is a word we toss around which, in this instance, Merriam Webster says means:

 incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result”

Gifts and kindnesses are not actions which happen in a vacuum. By their very nature, they must be tailored to the recipient. For instance, how many adults would be forgiven for the following gifts?

  • The drill press the giver needs to complete a power tool collection
  • The extra large box of Godiva to a starving person
  • A 3x T-shirt from a favorite band to a person who has just lost 100 pounds

The gifts were not chintzy in the way we scoff at things we merely do not like as a matter of taste. Instead, they show a deep misunderstanding of the part of the giver. Before committing resources to a gift, the giver failed to consider if the gift would be either beneficial or satisfy a need which overshadows it. Can you think of more personal examples?

What of the aunt’s gift in A Christmas Story? Or Winchester’s family tradition of chocolates in M*A*S*H? Have you ever been guilty of giving something because it would be what you wanted to receive but completely incongruous to the needs of your recipient?


Let’s step away from gift-giving for a moment. We have all been acquainted with the adage Actions speak louder than words. Many of us are intimately acquainted with it. When someone we love, who professes reciprocity, does something which hurts our feelings we will often tell them It is the thought that counts in order to spare them the guilt which is missing in their pride over their actions.

For instance, Mate comes home beaming with the story of dropping off money for the starving pygmies. In your head you are doing all the calculations to determine your child will not have his soccer fees tomorrow, the gas bill will be late and stretching the last chicken in the freezer into three days worth of meals will tax your imagination to its breaking point.


The thought does not count. Let’s call the spade a spade. If for one moment the thinker had been thinking, none of these situations would have arisen. Hence, the adage is deeply ironic. From the top, if you care about a person, …

1. …you make sure to remember the days which are important.

2. …you put as much effort into what you do for them as you would for yourself.

3. …you know the difference between what you like and what they like.

4. …you find out what is appropriate given the circumstances.

5. …you satisfy a desire or a need, rather than being concerned over the gratitude.

6. …you do not make the person you love suffer consequences for your perceived good deeds.


When in a relationship, be it friendship or a marital relationship, each person has the responsibility to consider the feelings of the other when deciding to do anything which will have consequences. Everything has consequences.

If the only consequence which interests you is the ego-stroking gratitude you expect for your gift or action, you are not responsible enough to give the gift or complete the action. The only thought you have put into the matter is what you will get out of it.


When placed into a position where you would normally spout It is the thought that counts, stop lying to the listener. Tell the truth.

  • This is inappropriate because…
  • I love this idea, however, it is (eight sizes too big/small, above my capabilities, useless in my situation).
  • This is what you wanted.

The bigger part of the challenge? Never put someone in the position to tell you It’s the thought that counts.

Is there ever a time when the thought really does count? How do you avoid being told or telling someone else It’s the thought that counts? What does the adage mean if you were to put it into your own words? Is it different as a receiver or as a speaker?

(c) Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. I just realized I can’t respond to a particular thread on the ipad

  2. What a thought provoking post. This is indeed a delicate dance between the giver and the receiver. Providing feedback in an honest manner, treading a very fine line of expressing disappointment for valid reasons and appearing to be carelessly ungrateful. Perhaps the receiver errs on the side of appearing more gracious and utters those words, “it was the thought that counts.” And yet, you are right – they are indeed a veiled manner of expressing disappointment nonetheless.

    Difficult thing, being an adult. As it should be…
    Phil recently posted..What Better Way to Unwind?My Profile

    • Great to see you tonight, Phil. I suppose I would keep the difficult if the alternative is the compromised freedoms of childhood. I rather like my jaded existence. Glad this one gave you a think.

  3. Hi hun! 🙂

    Yes, I remember well the only Christmas dad ever bought me anything – a bunch of 50’s records of his favourite singer from the £1 shop.

    I was seven years old and I’ll never forget the feeling of shock and disappointment – needless to say I was severely punished for my lack of gratitude… 🙁

    Love and hugs!


  4. I feel saying “it’s the thought that counts” has the same value as “don’t do what I do, do what I say”. Except for children, I do not offer the polite route. In fact, I have given back gifts at the time of giving, if they are that far off. Like, one of those prepackaged scented soaps collections from someone who knows how badly allergic to such things I am. Or knick knacks from someone who has even said to me they think I have too much “stuff” or “junk” in my home. I really have little patience, and it decreases as my age increases. I tell folks well ahead of time, I DO NOT want gifts, and sometimes those are the worst. Once, an old friend, who was drunk, insisted I accept the LP album of a musician we’d just gone to see. No thanks, I said – I don’t have a record player. She would NOT take “no” for an answer. It remained in my car (where she’d given it to me), until I finally found someone who actually wanted it. My other friends of that group thought I should have just accepted the album and said thanks. I DO NOT get that kind of enabling.
    Sorry for the rant/vent – I didn’t realize I had such strong feelings about the issue!!!
    great subject for conversation, Red. Thanks!!

    BuddhaKat recently posted..IMAGINE… I wonder…My Profile

    • ROFL! Rant away, my dear. It is why I pick such subjects. I too have no tolerance for the thoughtless. It never occurred to the one with the knickknacks the gift would be contributory, as likely there was no memory of such comment. Again, no thought about the words or the gift or the incongruous nature of the two. Good on you to take a stand. {HUGZ} xxx

  5. When a person tries very hard, but fails for some reason, the thought does count. If they are an idiot who didn’t make the effort it does not. Great, thought-provoking (and convicting ;[ gulp). Angie
    Angela recently posted..Ten ways to love: Forgiving without punishmentMy Profile

    • Glad this one got you thinking. When we say it, it is ironic because we try to comfort those who genuinely try but fail through no fault of their own. Remember last Tuesday’s post How hard did you really try? is the precursor to this one.

  6. I had a heated debate about this very thing about 6 months ago. I was on the “thought” counts side. My very good friend convinced me I was wrong by using a long litany of abuse she suffered from “thoughtful parents” who promised to do better by her next time. Thoughts need to translate into actions. Too many times I’ve “thought” of someone and hadn’t followed up. It didn’t help them a bit, having them blink through my mind. What meant something is when I called, dropped by or said, “Let’s have lunch.” As always, a provocative post.
    Barb recently posted..Why We Love Scout FinchMy Profile

    • Glad you felt this one. I cannot say I have ever been on the other side of this one. I have only used the adage twice, and both times it was a sardonically sarcastic utterance. I used it with the irony built into it. Glad you stopped by for this one, Barb. <3

  7. So, when my dad comes home from work and I offer to make him a gin and tonic…?
    Liquorstore Bear recently posted..FISGARD 150 BAVARIAN LAGER—No secret, this is a weird beerMy Profile

  8. I am just calling by for another read of this one and of course to thank you for those wicked pictures that you sent me, I can certainly add those straight into my gifts page, and perhaps use for additional graphics in postings too 🙂 😉

    I especially like the ‘I F*ck for Shoes’ offering, which had me giggling right off the Bat 🙂 😉

    Have a wonderful rest of evening Red 😉

    Androgoth XXx

    • I actually *thought* about it before I sent them 😉 Glad you liked them, my friend.

  9. When Peter Sellers received a gift from his daughter which he didn’t like, he responded with ….”I know it’s the thought that counts, but WHAT a thought!!!!”

    As I am one of the most difficult people to buy gifts for , I tell people to buy me a bookmark instead of a birthday card as I will get more use out of it. I already own everything I need. I don’t need the regifting guilt .

    I, on the other hand have resorted to buying gift vouchers (despite the value being revealed) in order for friends to buy what they want. I know, I know, impersonal but practical.
    Friggin Loon recently posted..Otto Titslinger, You Lying BastardMy Profile

    • I love the attitude. I used to drive my stepmother berserk. She would ask me what I wanted for Christmas, and I always answered something practical. I drove her bats. I do not take offense at gift cards, even the smallest ones available. I can always pool them 😉

  1. Ten ways to love: Keeping promises « doyoumeanwhatiknow

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