The Super-Power of Thank You

By: Hilary Bumm

Not only is it good manners to say thank you, but it’s also a proven mood-booster.

It’s considered common courtesy to send a thank-you note to someone who gives you a gift, attends your event or does something kind. A thoughtfully composed thank-you note, whether it’s designed to impress a hiring manager or simply express gratitude to someone who helped you, should not be underestimated.

Meanwhile, a pretty dope phenomenon occurs when we say thank you. As a prolific writer (well, scribbler) of thank you notes, I found this study fascinating. Research indicates that being thanked can make the recipient feel happier and more engaged while increasing the emotional intelligence of the person saying (or writing) it.

When we give and receive thank-you notes, our brain is automatically redirected to pay attention to what we have, producing intrinsic motivation and a strong awareness of the present. Also, at the neurochemical level, gratitude acts as a catalyst for neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – the ones that manage our emotions, anxiety and immediate stress responses.


Writer’s block? Often, the simpler, the better is the key to a well-written thank you. In his 1876 book, How To Write Letters, English professor J. Willis Westlake was among the first to create templates for proper thank-you letters. Fast forward two centuries later, his advice holds true.

Take pains; write as plainly and neatly as possible—rapidly if you can, slowly if you must. Good writing affects us sympathetically, giving us a higher appreciation both of what is written and of the person who wrote it. Do not say, I have not time to be so particular. Take time; or else write fewer letters and shorter ones.


According to stationer Caspari, the first versions of thank you notes originated in the 1400s when Europeans exchanged greeting cards with friends and family members. This was a new form of social expression that involved delivering the notes by hand. Even earlier, the Chinese and Egyptian people wrote messages on papyrus paper to communicate with their friends and wish one another good luck.


Dr. Alex Korb, neuroscientist and author of Upward Spiral, concludes that “gratitude forces us to focus on the positive sides of life. In short, gratitude can boost neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine.”

Dopamine is our brain’s pleasure chemical. That dope occurrence is magnified by the physical act of engaging in an activity that expresses gratitude, such as writing that thank you.

How’s that for win-win? The next time you grab your pen and paper or head to your keyboard to say thanks, see for yourself!

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