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The Positive Impact of a Thank-You Note

The blessing of thanking others for a gift.

Thank you note

I grew up in a family that believed strongly in the power of the thank-you note. Not only was it considered a necessity of a well-mannered life, I was taught that thank-you notes are acts of completion. A gift is not fully received until the giver has been thanked. An experience is not fully shared until gratitude is expressed to those who made it possible.

It turns out, my family was really onto something. Recent research published in the journal Psychological Science, found that people who receive thank-you notes felt notably happy. In fact, the word “ecstatic” was often checked on the questionnaire study participants filled out after receiving a thank-you note.

This could not be less surprising to those of us who know that expressing gratitude has emotional and even physical health benefits.

But here’s what surprised me about this study—the senders of the thank-you notes predicted that the receivers would score a “3” on the questionnaire’s happiness index. In fact, those who received notes scored between 4 and 5. 

The researchers dub their finding “undervaluing gratitude,” and it suggests people feel that thanking someone for a gift, a visit or a kindness is a meaningless chore rather than a profound way to impact someone’s feelings of worth and appreciation. 

If thank-you notes intimidate you, don’t fret. A short note—hand-written or emailed—impact receivers deeply if it expresses warmth and genuine gratitude. In fact, the researchers suggested a different name for the task when they were instructing participants what to write. They said, “write a gratitude letter.” The participants did, taking an average of five minutes to finish the job.

If you rethought thank-you notes as “gratitude letters,” would you write more of them? If you knew they were likely to materially affect the happiness of the person on the receiving end of your note, would you sit down and get writing? 

And perhaps most important of all, what do you suppose that experience, regularly practiced, might do to your own happiness? 

I can’t end this post, dear reader, without thanking you for reading and for joining me on the positive path we are trying each day to walk together.

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