Mental Health

People Really Underestimate The Power Of Saying Thank You, Study Shows

From the grandparent who baked you cookies, to the janitor who made sure your classrooms were spotless and the friend who helped you through that rough break-up, people can leave a positive impact on your lives in big and little ways. 

Have you ever looked back and felt you did not thank them enough? 

The new study from the University of Texas (UT) examined how senders and receivers perceived thank you notes. And what they found makes a good case for why we should stop trying to downplay our gratitude.

The paper titled "Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation" was recently published in the journal Psychological Science.

"Researchers have known for 15 years that gratitude improves well-being. There's lots of work done on this already," said lead author Amit Kumar, assistant professor of marketing at the McCombs School of Business at UT. "What was interesting to me is that even though it's something that’s well-known, people still don't express gratitude all that often."

Kumar conducted the new study along with Nicholas Epley, a researcher from the University Of Chicago Booth School Of Business. Close to 100 students were recruited for an experiment where they (as the "expressers") would write and send a thank you note to a recipient of their choice.

The senders were also asked to use rating scales to try and predict how the recipient would feel after reading their note. After this was done, the research team contacted the individual receivers to find out how they were feeling. Turned out, participants really underestimated how good their recipients felt after they read the notes. 

Kumar explained how the recipients were "genuinely happy" to know about the grateful feelings of the expressers.

"Perhaps simply knowing that you’re making a bigger impact than you think you are should be something that encourages people to engage in these sorts of pro-social actions more often."

Meanwhile, expressers not only underestimated the intensity of this happiness but were also harsh critics of their articulation.

Some believed they sounded too awkward while others felt their words did not sound genuine. This type of anxiety may be the reason why people generally shy away from expressing how grateful they are in everyday scenarios.

However, the researchers discovered this was hardly an issue for the person who was being thanked.

 "We found that expressers may worry inordinately about how they are expressing gratitude  —  their ability to articulate the words ‘just right’  —  whereas recipients are focused more on warmth and positive intent," they wrote.

So grab some stationery or open a new e-mail message, and try writing a note or letter to say thank you to someone.

"It comes at little cost, but the benefits are larger than people expect," Kumar concluded.