The Power of "Thank You"
Ashley Evanson - November 04, 2008
Religion has long embraced the concept of gratitude, and the happiness and health that flourish as a result. But now science has accepted and proven gratitude to be a positive force. So when it gets down to it, the repetitive, time-consuming task of writing thank-you letters is actually good for you! Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of _Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier_, is a forerunner on gratitude research. He conducts experiments that measure the physical and emotional results of gratitude and ingratitude--and they truly do have a direct effect on your body and spirit. *The Benefits of Expressing Gratitude* For example, Emmons' ground-breaking research has proven that people who are grateful have higher levels of positive emotions like love, optimism, joy, enthusiasm, and happiness. "The practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness," Emmons says. He also states that those who are grateful are able to cope better with stress, sleep better, have more energy, and even have more resilience toward illness and have greater physical health. "Gratitude works because, as a way of perceiving and interpreting life, it recruits other positive emotions--like joy, contentment, and hope--that have direct physical benefits, most likely through the immune system or endocrine system," Emmons says. "We have also found that when people experience gratitude, they feel more loving, more forgiving, and closer to God." On the flip side, ingratitude can have the opposite effect. Those who are ungrateful show signs of loneliness, increased depression, and lack of meaning in life. Like gratitude, it too has a direct effect on your body's health. "If ingratitude is combined with hostility, resentment, or cynicism--as it often is--then the cardiovascular disease risk is increased," Emmons says. "Ungrateful people may also be at greater risk from stress-related diseases because they handle stress more poorly than do the grateful people." So how do you show gratitude? You can always "count your many blessings," which has proven to be a great help. But here's where the thank-you letter comes into play. Emmons says that by sharing gratitude, all of the above benefits are amplified. So expressing thanks to someone else doubles your joy. Emmons recalls a study done in 2005 that examined what happened to people when they wrote a thank-you letter to someone they felt they had never properly thanked. They delivered the letter and personally read it to the person, nothing more. After having completed the assignment, the letter-givers were happier and more content. They went in for follow-ups one week, one month, and even three months later, and most stilled showed signs of increased happiness. Emmons believes the power of a thank-you note is incredible, and that there are three main benefits: 1. Expressing emotions magnifies the feeling, so expressing thanks makes our gratitude stronger. 2. Expressing thanks builds and strengthens relationships. He says gratitude is the relationship-building emotion, so not only do we benefit on an individual level, but we create better bonds with others. 3. It humbles us. The natural man has a self-serving bias and the tendency to take sole credit for everything positive. Acknowledging that something good is a result of someone else provides us with a humbling experience. *Thank-You Note Basics* So how does one write a proper thank-you letter, making sure to express sincere gratitude for another person? A lot of people don't write thank-you notes because they either don't know what to say, feel like they can only write generic, impersonal things, or they've forgotten and it's too late to send one now. Don't let these stop you. Remember, silent gratitude benefits no one. The key is to focus on the giver. What does the gift mean to you? How does it make you feel that the giver acknowledged you. Try to concentrate more on the person than the gift, although mentioning the specific gift is a must. Here's an outline for a typical thank-you letter: 1. Greeting: "Dear Johnny," or more personal, "Hey Johnny!" 2. Thank them for the gift, and be specific: "Thank you so much for the lovely pearl bracelet." 3. Mention something about the gift, like why you like the gift, and/or how you are planning to use it: "It is absolutely stunning, and I feel so beautiful when I wear it." 4. Express gratitude for the time, effort, and thought the giver put into the gift: "It was so nice of you to think of me, and you knew exactly what I would love." 5. Mention a brief personal comment about the giver, like the next time you plan to see them, mention their family, or express feelings about your relationship: "You are such an amazing person, and I feel so lucky to be your friend." 6. Sign off with "Love," "Sincerely," "Thanks again," etc., and sign your name. It's that simple! You can elaborate and, of course, add more than one sentence to any or all of these steps, making it as short or long as you feel appropriate. Writing an uncomplicated letter like this can mean the world to someone, and make a tremendous difference in your relationship with them. An easy way to get your thank-you notes written quickly is to have envelopes already stamped and labeled with your return address, and to always have stationary on hand. Make it a goal to immediately sit down and write a quick note as soon as you receive a gift. Think of it as the quicker you write a thank-you, the more grateful you are. Also, you should never feel indebted. There is a difference between indebtedness and gratitude, and the difference in crucial. If you feel like you have to repay the debt or have a sense of obligation to the person, no good will come of your thank-you. True gratitude is where we are glad to be indebted to the person, truly happy to give thanks. Just remember in your thank-you writing endeavors, any letter is better than no letter, so despite tardiness or embarrassment of poor writing skills, or whatever is keeping you from the task. Just do it--your happiness depends on it! _More on thank-you notes . . ._ *Thank-you Note Etiquette* The website thank-you-note-samples.com lists common mistakes made in thank-you notes. Make sure you don't do one of the following: * Don't talk about yourself--the point of the letter is the gift, not you. * When thanking someone for money, don't mention the amount in the note. * Don't print out a thank-you card. Take the time to write a hand-written letter. After all, they took the time (and money) to buy the gift. * Don't include fewer than three sentences. * Don't write a thank-you note for receiving a thank-you note. It gets too confusing and isn't necessary. * Don't wait more than two weeks to write a thank-you, and don't wait a year to mail letters for wedding gifts. * Don't get personal with a business letter. It's best to just stick with thanking them. * Don't email thank-you letters. Unless you know them really well and speak with them often, email is too impersonal. *Thank-you Writing for Kids* Getting your kids to be as enthusiastic about writing a thank-you letter as they were about receiving the gift can be a challenge. But it's a good habit to develop early on and kids should know that gratitude is important. Here are some ways to get your kids excited about writing a thank-you note. * Make their own stationary: pull out the crafts and let them color, paint, sticker and design their own personal cards. They can even make a stockpile for the future. * Give them their own address book: help them fill out an address book of their own that they can take with them on vacations or to summer camp. * Take a picture thank-you card: if your child is too young to write a letter, take a picture of them with their gift and have them sign their name on it. * Create a drawing thank-you letter: again, if they're too young to write, have your kids draw a picture of themselves with their gift.
© LDS Living, Nov/Dec 2008