Here's the Amazing Added Benefit of Writing Thank-You Notes

Small effort, outsize emotional reward

Back in the day, it was customary to write a thank-you note to someone as a small sign of appreciation for inviting you to a wedding, hosting a lovely party, or simply doing you a small favor. But in today's hustle and bustle digital age, this basic form of etiquette has been replaced by a cursory text or—more often than not—nothing at all.

Now, a new study published in Psychological Science provides a compelling argument for why we should bring back the thank-you card.

Amit Kumar, the assistant professor of marketing in the McCombs School of Business at University of Utah and Nicholas Epley, a Professor of Behavior Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, conducted three experiments in which they asked participants to write a thank-you card to someone who did something nice for them and guess how they would react.

In each experiment, the researchers found that people seemed to think that the gesture would make the recipient feel kind of awkward. But the reality was that it actually boosted the well-being not only of the recipient but also the person who wrote the card.

"We looked at what's correlating with people's likelihood of expressing gratitude—what drives those choices—and what we found is that predictions or expectations of that awkwardness, that anticipation of how a recipient would feel—those are the things that matter when people are deciding whether to express gratitude or not," Kumar said.

It's kind of like bringing someone flowers, which is another nice gesture that has fallen out of favor in recent years. In America, it's fairly rare to see a man holding a bouquet of roses on any day other than Valentine's Day, and many men have told me that they would never bring a woman flowers on a first date for fear of seeming too eager or overly old-fashioned or making her feel uncomfortable. But the truth is that recent studies have shown that receiving flowers is a real mood-lifter for both women and men.

It's therefore time to put our insecurities aside and bring these tokens of appreciation back in style.

"What we saw is that it only takes a couple of minutes to compose letters like these, thoughtful ones and sincere ones," Kumar said. "It comes at little cost, but the benefits are larger than people expect."

And for more advice your grandmother gave you that you should actually follow, check out 40 Old-Fashioned Relationship Tips That Still Apply Today.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more