Does a Thank You Note Really Matter?

Our resident psychiatrist on why expressing gratitude—no matter how awkward it feels—is still crucial.

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Q. I find it awkward to express gratitude. Plus, those who know me know how much I appreciate them. Does writing a thank you email or note really make a difference?

Many people keep gratitude to themselves. They feel it but don’t express it. Like you, they assume the other person already knows how much he or she is appreciated or worry about finding the right words to say. I have a patient who was so concerned about writing the perfect thank you note that she often ended up not writing one at all.

Putting pen to paper or sending a thank you email may seem unnecessary or feel uncomfortable, but research tells a different story. According to the recent study “Undervaluing Gratitude,” by researchers at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, we systematically underestimate the positive impact of expressing gratitude and overestimate how awkward an expression of gratitude might make someone else feel. Misunderstanding the consequences of saying thanks keeps us from engaging in a simple action that would make us and someone else a little happier. The conclusion of the study is crystal clear: Every time we don’t express gratitude, we are missing an opportunity to give others and ourselves a boost.

Expressing and experiencing gratitude in everyday life is one of the most reliable ways to improve your own well-being and the well-being of someone else. Author Gladys B. Stern famously said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” Say it. Write it. Express it somehow. Just don’t keep it to yourself.

Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York and the the founder of positivepercription.com.

This story originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Marie Claire.

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