When we show people we are thankful for them, it doesn’t just make them feel good. It’s actually good for us as well. In fact, Dr. Martin Seligman, a former president of the American Psychological Association, and his colleagues found that tangible expressions of gratitude can reduce depression and increase our levels of happiness in the long-term. That’s right -- saying thank you isn’t just a polite thing to do; it affects our well-being and has significant and lasting health benefits.
In his book Flourish, Seligman points out that the “thank you” of his experiment was not “said so casually or quickly that” it was nearly meaningless. He and his colleagues found health benefits derived from an expression of gratitude done “in a thoughtful, purposeful manner.” (In their research, it took the form of a hand-delivered letter of roughly 300 words.)
If it makes other people feel good and is good for us as well, why don’t we express our gratitude to others in thoughtful, purposeful ways more often? For some of us, it’s because thinking of simple yet heartfelt ways to do it -- beyond the smiley-face emoji text -- is difficult. Helping in your search for ideas, we partnered with Extra Gum to bring you eight of our absolute favorites:
1. You want it? You got it!
Have you ever had someone admire -- truly admire -- something of yours? The next time it happens -- if it’s someone you have been wanting to find a way to thank -- give her or him the shirt, scarf, piece of jewelry or some other trinket. If you want to make it extra special, don’t gift it right then and there. Wait. Go home, find a box, wrap it and then present it.
2. Make a ‘just because’ toast.
Being on the receiving end of a toast -- unless you’re a movie star or astronaut -- is rare. Sure, if you’re getting married or celebrating a birthday that ends in a zero, you might expect it. But, what about just a regular night out with friends and loved ones? If you were surprised with a toast by someone special with words from the heart, it would probably make your day. Why not make someone else’s day by toasting him or her when it isn’t expected?
3. Bring a ‘taste of home.’
For people you love who’ve moved away from their home cities or countries, there are food and drinks they’re sure to really miss. Whether it’s a “real” New York City bagel, a slice of Chicago pizza or “chocolat chaud” (French hot chocolate), give them what they crave. Because of the Internet, even the most unusual, specialty items are now easy to find.
4. Deliver a cup of coffee.
Wake up. Go to the office. Work. Go home. Repeat. If the typical work day were a color, it would be gray or beige. It’s a truly small thing, but if you got a call at work that someone brought you a cup of really good (non-office) coffee or hot chocolate with extra whipped cream, it would probably make your day. So, why not make someone else’s?
5. Surprise someone with dessert.
Treating someone to dinner can be expensive. Since it’s the thought that counts, if you know that someone special to you is going to be dining out, call ahead to the restaurant and arrange for a slice of cake or glass of Champagne to be brought out. You don’t even have to be there to see it. In fact, if you’re not there, it’s a bigger surprise.
6. Share a beloved recipe.
If you’ve ever hosted friends or family members and they raved about a dish or meal that you made, surprise them with the recipe. Don’t just email it, either. Be old school about it: get a notecard or some nice paper, write it out, and send it via snail mail. If you really want to impress them -- while giving the wholesome and heartfelt gift of homemade nourishment -- prepare the actual dish, attach the recipe to it, and drop it off to their home.
7. Offer to babysit -- on a specific date.
Psychologists advise parents to take time for themselves and for each other, not only for their own mental health, but also the well-being of the family. If you have a friend or loved one with children, say you’ll babysit -- but make the offer very specific, including a date and even a starting time. Specifics make it much easier for a schedule-oriented parent to accept the gesture than if you offer to babysit “sometime,” because it’s clear that the offer is genuine and serious -- you don’t expect to take “no” for an answer.
8. Organize a movie night.
Pop some popcorn, put out some candy and watch a movie together. But there’s a catch! You aren’t watching your favorite movie. You are watching his or her favorite movie, particularly if it’s one in a genre you’re usually not crazy about. Who knows? You might even surprise yourself and find out that you actually do like science fiction, romantic comedies or action adventure movies after all.
Saying thanks doesn’t have to be fancy or cost a lot of money. Sometimes it’s the little things that last the longest. And Extra Gum celebrates the ways we can help those we care about feel extra special every day.