“Thank you” was probably etched into your brain early in life, alongside its trusty compatriot—the “magic word”—“please.” In English, “thank you” comes from the word “think” and it originally meant something along the lines of “I will think about what you did for me.” It has become colloquial—part of the beginner’s guide to politeness.
But “thank you” is not just a polite throwaway. It shouldn’t be another mumbled afterthought. The expression of gratitude matters. It matters for your physical and mental health—people who share gratitude are more confident and can even have lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems. It matters for your relationships—gratitude launches a magic loop of helpful reciprocity. And it matters for business—being thanked stokes employee pride and productivity and it literally pays itself forward.
Okay, assuming I don’t have to convince you that thanking people is important, let’s move on.
We’re in the season of giving thanks and I would argue your local grocery store shouldn’t be the only one cashing in. How about learning some tools to say thank you well?
Four Tips to Become a Master of Gratitude
Trying all four of these tips together will make for a pretty rich expression of gratitude. But even just trying one will make an impact. Each comes with an example of how that tip could play out at work and an example from a pop culture icon that may inspire you.
Use the Formula
What, exactly, are you thankful for and why, exactly, is it important to you? Think of it as, The Act + The Stakes. The favor alone isn’t what you’re grateful for. It’s what that favor enabled. So be specific and share both.
At Work: “Thank you, team, for pulling an all-nighter to finish that video. Without that hard work, we couldn’t have gotten 10,000 new sales and surpass our annual quota – and it’s only September!”
In Pop Culture: Audrey Hepburn does this beautifully in a letter she wrote in 1961 to the composer of the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” She states what he did and why it really matters to her and to everyone who will ever watch the movie. She even tosses in a beautiful metaphor.
I have just seen our picture – BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – this time with your score.
A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty.
You are the hippest of cats – and the most sensitive of composers!
Thank you, dear Hank.
Lots of love
Paint a Picture
Help them connect to your gratitude by using your senses. What do you feel, hear and see? Description elevates your thanks from facts to experience and people connect most with stories and experiences.
At Work: “I went through the motions in high school, college, grad school and the first few years of my career. All a means to an end. Now, with your mentorship, I care about what I’m doing and I care about doing it well. It gives me purpose and I’m thankful for that.”
In Pop Culture: In his Oscar acceptance speech, Matthew McConaughey thanks his dad, who taught him how to be a man. He beautifully describes his dad dancing up in heaven with a pot of gumbo and a cold can of Miller Light. It helps the gratitude come to life.
Saying thank you can be vulnerable. When we’re nervous, our heart races and we speed up. Make an effort to slow down. Help them hear each word you say. If they don’t hear it or you race through it, they won’t feel the impact.
Just watch the video below. You may never sound like Mr. Rogers (especially at work) but you sure can learn from how he grabs attention with his delivery.
In Pop Culture: Fred Rogers accepted an award and turned it into an opportunity to think about gratitude. He doesn’t spend much time on lengthy thank you’s but his delivery helped us feel the weight of the moment. He shows us that slowing down and speaking warmly can turn most words into meaningful moments.
Call Yourself to Action
Whether the gesture was large or small, it not only helped you temporarily, it changed you in some way. What are you going to do with it? That’s next-level gratitude.
At Work: “Thank you for spending an hour walking me through the physics of launching a rocket. It not only helped me answer my client’s question, but now I can help other people understand and be inspired by it.”
In Pop Culture: In this speech, Snoop thanks his mentor, Quincy Jones, for showing him how to be positive and productive. But he goes a step further, committing to instill the same values in the new generation of rappers, as their mentor. He paid it forward as part of his thank you.
It probably won’t be long until your next opportunity to thank someone. Grab one of these tips and try it. You will have your authentic style, but the goal is to jump in that magic loop of gratitude. Give more of it, you’ll get more of it.
Thank you for reading. Knowing that one person has some tools to pass along their gratitude helps me picture the world as a slightly happier, more functional place than it was before you clicked this link. And that makes me want to practice it even more too. (See what I did there?)
Illustrated by Juanly Cabrera