Thank your bus driver. It will make you happier.

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Photo Credit: Geo Casillas | Daily Texan Staff

If you don’t thank your bus driver already, you’re probably not convinced by the argument that they work long hours for meager wages and so thanking them is just “the right thing to do.” However, I’m going to make the case that even for the most egocentric how-does-it-benefit-me-and-me-only type of people, thanking your bus driver can be a selfish act.

We’ll get to the cold, hard scientific data in a minute, but first let me tell you an exaggerated anecdote rooted in authentic experience that illustrates the kind of Machiavellian benefits I’m proposing you’ll get from thanking your bus driver. 

A few months ago I took the bus to school every day from Riverside, and sometimes I’d see others throw out a ‘thank you’ when exiting. But not me. That was more social engagement than I could muster so early in the morning, and it had consequences. The thing about bus drivers is that they have to adhere to a strict arrival and departure schedule, which means that every now and then they leave behind a sprinting Riverside student with a final exam in 15 minutes. 

If you do thank your bus driver, however, things are different. Bus drivers remember kind passengers, and in return for the recognition you give them, they’re happy to sacrifice an extra minute to wait for you as they see you rush towards the bus. It’s much easier for them to do favors for someone they know is always grateful. 

So there you go. Thanking your bus driver can be an act of pure self-advancement, no matter your intentions.  

I acknowledge that it might seem mean to write. Essentially, it is a how-to guide for manipulating bus drivers’ emotions to get them to do you favors. But I have to confess that this is purely a rhetorical device on my part. In truth, we should all be genuinely grateful for our bus drivers, both for the services they provide us and for many of their funny, kind-hearted personalities. To those passengers who aren’t already convinced by this, though, just because you don’t express appreciation for your bus drivers now doesn’t mean thanking them can’t benefit you in the long term.

Additionally, in one famous 1993 experiment, researchers found that when subjects deliberately smiled, regardless of their mood, they could feel the same positive emotions that can cause a smile in the first place. 

Gratitude works in the same way. According to a study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, gratitude, genuine or not, stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure).

Whether or not your intentions are entirely self-serving at first, science shows that simply going through the motions of gratitude can eventually coax your brain into feeling the pleasure that comes with doing the right thing. 

Even if you couldn’t be less bothered by it now, thanking your bus driver everyday will eventually make you feel truly thankful, and what’s more is that you’ll profit from doing so. 

So next time you depart a bus, be selfish — say thanks to your bus driver. You’ll be happy you did. 

Zaher is a government and European thought sophomore from Hudson.