Power of a Thank You


The big message behind two short words: Thank you

I’m de-cluttering, a time-consuming task that brings me no joy at the moment but promises relief and simplicity in the future. Recently, as I tackled one drawer in my crammed desk, I spotted a stray notecard tucked under office supplies and half-used notebooks. I slipped it out and read it.

I knew, immediately, why I’d kept it.

The note was a simple, short thank you. Apparently a neighbor noticed me collecting litter along a road and mentioned it at City Hall. Our mayor sat down, penned me a thank you for making my community a cleaner place, and sent it to my house. We’ve known each other for years and he mentioned our friendship too, which touched my heart.

I’ve picked up trash for years on my walks and never expected to be noticed, much less lauded. But I was flattered by this humble note when I received it years ago, and that same warm feeling washed over me as I read the message again.

Power of words

Why was this note a keeper? It was personal, written to me. It mentioned something specific I’d done, which made me proud. And it made me feel noticed and valued, which really lifts the soul.

It had just 46 words. What mattered was not the length but its spirit.

What I read in the exploding field of positive psychology – essentially the study of happiness – is that such small acts of kindness can have huge benefits in how we connect with people, engage in our community and feel about our lives. As people take time to be grateful for what they have, say thank you to people around them and acknowledge the accomplishments of others, they feel happier, improve their sense of wellbeing and enjoy a more engaged and effective life.

They reap health benefits too. Cultivating a sense of gratitude and thankfulness has been linked to boosting the immune system, reducing stress, improving sleep and bolstering how we handle hard times. Researchers are studying the role of these positive traits in heart health, regulating blood pressure and helping in the treatment of cancer.

Ready for writing

So, what have I done to spread this good feeling forward? Not enough. But finding this note spurs me on to notice the good works and accomplishments of people around me – and to let them know I noticed.

The good news is that gratitude and appreciation can be practiced and learned. Keeping a gratitude journal for just a few weeks can boost feelings of positivity. Replacing a vague “Let’s get together” with a specific “Let’s take a walk on Tuesday” can renew a friendship. I hope sending a short note to someone who earns an award or does a good deed will let them know I honor and value what they’ve achieved.

I’ve de-cluttered my desk, gathered notecards and stamps in one place and added email addresses to my electronic contact list. I want to be ready to send off a note – electronic or hand-written – when I feel moved.

My most important goal: to get the words out to the people who deserve them.

So thank you, Mr. Mayor. I’m sure you didn’t expect a note sent in 2009 to continue inspiring so many years later, yet it does.

Mea Andrews is a journalist and writer interested in psychology, medicine, aging, art and dogs. She lives in Montana.