According to the experts in the field of positive psychology, the mental state of being thankful benefits the giver of thanks as much as the receiver. Research shows that an attitude of gratitude bolsters your self-worth and self-esteem, combats negative emotions such as stress or anger, builds meaningful social bonds, and releases endorphins in the brain that produce a sense of well-being. One university study shows that gratitude and giving even increase physical health and longevity. As importantly, the receiver of your thanks benefits mightily by feeling valued and appreciated. Here are a few tips on expressing your appreciation to others.
1. Be sincere. Say it like you mean it--true gratitude flows from genuine feelings. Let's say a co-worker has gone the extra mile to help you complete a big project on time. You could hurriedly say, "Thanks" as you turn your back and walk out the door. Or, you could take one extra minute, sit down beside her, and looking her in the eyes say, "Jan, I really appreciate the extra time and effort you've invested to make this happen. I couldn't have done it without you. Thank you so much." The first approach seems like an after-thought and may make Jan feel undervalued. The second approach expresses sincere gratitude and is likely to make her day. When expressing heartfelt thanks to another, remember to use good eye contact, open body language, an expressive voice tone, and say the most important word--their name.
2. Choose the appropriate medium. When you consider the giver and what they've done for you, what would be most fitting: a face-to-face meeting, a hand-written note, a phone call, an email, posting a message via social media, sending flowers or a gift? Any expression of sincere thanks is better than nothing at all; however, ideally strive to match apples to apples. For example, when an associate refers a client to you, a quick email or note via LinkedIn may be insufficient. Perhaps a hand-written note, treating them to lunch, or sending a gift basket would be more fitting.
3. Customize the message. Does the recipient have a special interest? If so, select a card with a unique illustration, photograph or design that reflects their personal passion, or send a gift that speaks to their professional pursuit. (Take into consideration that many companies have dollar limits on gift giving, usually $25-$30).
4. Be specific. Regardless of the medium--whether spoken or written--express the particular qualities or traits you value most about the person and communicate how their contribution has positively affected your life. For example, imagine a colleague has spent the last year planning and executing a stellar sales meeting that jump starts your team on a great year. After the meeting, you could send an email that reads, "Thanks, Bob. Great job." Or, you could send an appropriate gift with a hand-written note that reads, "Dear Bob, Thank you very much for hosting such a successful sales conference this week. You have an outstanding ability to organize details, provide quality educational content, and get everyone engaged in the process. We loved it! I'm confident my team and I will exceed quota and have a banner year because of your efforts. Thanks again!"
5. Commend or refer people to others. One of the best ways to show your appreciation for what someone has done for you is to sing their praises to others. When a colleague goes above and beyond, send a complimentary note to their boss. When you benefit from the outstanding service or product of a business partner, recommend them to others.
6. Look for opportunities to thank people. Every time someone does something for you, big or small, it's an opportunity to express thanks. They've made your life a little better than before. Over time, this repeated practice develops a positive transforming approach to life--an attitude of gratitude. You may even become what American writer J.D. Salinger called "a kind of paranoid in reverse" where you suspect people of plotting to make you happy.
Not only does thanking other people boost your own happiness, it meets a deep need within them to feel valued and appreciated. As we move into the holiday season, my hope is that our thoughts, words and deeds will express the attitude of gratitude.