And the word is, “Thanks!” Something magical happened last week. In the space of three days I received two handwritten thank-you notes. The first was from Victoria, a neighbor who recently graduated from high school and will be attending college next year. Her note expressed appreciation for a gift given in recognition of her commencement. It was touching and reflected the delightful young woman she has become. The second note was from a Linked-In connection named Jason and it was a bit more of a surprise, as it was a thank-you for a late afternoon meeting over some iced tea. While I’ve received numerous emails thanking me for taking the time to meet with someone, I cannot recall having ever received a written thank-you note for the same thing. It made an impression, and a very favorable one at that. It also reminded me of the revolution starting through the inspiring words of an old friend, Elena Anguita.
I met Elena many years ago through a mutual colleague. At the time I was investigating the use of on-line coursework as a possible venue for students who were pursuing high school graduation requirements through alternative venues. My friend introduced me to Elena an account executive with Edgenuity, a company specializing in helping schools create on-line curriculums and virtual academies. We connected and she was extremely helpful in helping us implement our school district’s first on-line venue (I didn’t send her a thank-you note – guilt now haunts me). Fast forward to 2017 and our paths cross again, but this time it’s not in person, but by way of a book she has written, Spread Thanks: Create Miracles Through the Power of Ink. Through her book, Elena reminds us that one of the first lessons we learned as children was to say thank-you. I certainly did! I remember my mother watching over my shoulder as I penned thank-you notes for gifts received for a birthday, holiday or other special occasions. I still try to write them, but I admit, email has made things so much easier (and less personal). Elena however believes that there is a transformational power that can belong to each of us by simply hand writing and sharing notes of gratitude. She shares, “ I always felt there was more I had to give to the world—something big, but I didn’t know what. An idea came to me. I saw the phrase “a thank you a day” in my mind. I knew I was being called to take action, so I started to write a thank-you note a day and sent it to anyone who had helped me. I kept doing this each morning, and before long, I found that this simple practice changed my life completely. I became so much more joyful, healthier, and less stressed than I’d ever been.” More, joy, better health and less stress as a by-product of simply writing a thank you note? Sounds like a no-brainer to me!
Ironically a year following the publication of Elena’s book, research conducted at the University of Chicago and published in Psychological Science revealed that most of us underestimate the positive effect a hand-written thank-you note has on the recipient and on the author. The Chicago study served to reinforce earlier neuroimaging research conducted at the University of Indiana suggesting that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains are still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature. “The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits. These psychological benefits include a feeling of well-being and reduced depression.”
So what do we have to lose? It would seem that by investing a few moments a day in writing a thank-you note, purchasing a stamp, and mailing it, we brighten someone else’s day, enhance our joy factor, heighten our sense of well-being, rewire our brain to feel extra thankful, improve our health and reduce stress. I’m in, are you?