How to say a better thank you and properly express gratitude

Growing up, we were encouraged to remember our pleases and thank yous.

And these days we’re well aware of the power of gratitude.

But years of practice doesn’t mean our ‘thank you’ is the best it can be.

Whether you get awkward thanking someone for a gift, or you say ‘thanks!’ so often it feels like it’s lost all meaning, there’s likely room for improvement to ensure your ‘thank you’ makes someone feel genuinely appreciated.

As part of Better Living, our series to make every part of your life a bit better, we asked some experts how to absolutely nail a ‘thank you’ – at Christmas and beyond.

Get into the ‘why’

What makes you so grateful for this act or gift? What separates this ‘thank you’ from the one you’d give someone who passes you the salt or holds open a door?

Get a little into the ‘why’ of your thanks to make it really resonate.

Counselling Directory member Sana Kamran tells ‘Tell them why you are thankful, what difference did their help or favour make to you? What could you have not been able to achieve without their help?’

Check your body language

Marilyn Devonish, who runs a group dedicated to gratitude, advises: ‘When culturally appropriate, look the person you are thanking in the eye.

‘A genuine smile can speak volumes, so even if you don’t have the words, your eyes convey your message and vote of thanks.’

Remember that giving thanks is good for everyone

Psychologist Natasha Tiwari tells us: ‘The science repeatedly proves the same thing; that genuine gratitude makes us notably happier.

‘Saying thank you, wether with words, a gesture or a letter, really can boost the wellbeing of all involved, especially if the thanks is given fully wholeheartedly, and is personalised.’ 

Really mean it

Take a moment to genuinely feel that gratitude for what this person has given you or done for you.

Don’t try to fake a sincere ‘thank you’ – people can tell when you’re putting on a facade.

‘Don’t say thank you for return-thanks or brownie points, as in, don’t just do it to look or sound good,’ says Marilyn. ‘People can feel that.

‘The words thank you are like a gift, a prayer, or a blessing, so take your time and deliver the words with reverence. Sound it out as you say it. Feel the words, and the other person will feel it too.’

Consider writing a thank you letter

Writing ‘thank you’ notes has fallen out of fashion a tad. While we don’t think you should have to write an essay for every gift you receive or minor gesture, when you really want to express the extent of your gratitude, writing it out is a great idea.

‘Doing something unexpected can go a long way,’ notes Marilyn. ‘A thank you card surprises people because old-fashioned pen and paper is for some becoming a dying art.

‘A text or social media message also goes a long way because you’re extending it out beyond the moment.’

Simon Alexander Ong, life coach and the author of Energize, agrees: ‘It can be easy to underestimate the impact of a written thank you note but when you do what most won’t, you will stand out.

‘A written note says that you went out of your way to sit down and write something meaningful to them. It conveys thoughtfulness, appreciation and sincerity.

‘And it is a real win-win. Expressing your gratitude in this way not only improves your mental wellbeing but it uplifts the energy of the person receiving your note.

‘Just as the gateway drug to success is consistency and to connection is vulnerability, the gateway drug to abundance is gratitude. And to experience the full benefits of this, we must express thanks in thoughtful and purposeful ways.’

Thank them after the fact

Related to the above, thanking someone once you’re apart can have a big impact. It shows that you weren’t just chucking them a ‘thanks’ as a reflex – you genuinely mean it.

Marilyn says: ‘If you don’t get a chance to thank someone in the moment, do it afterwards. In some instances, this can have a greater impact because you’ve remembered them and been thinking of what they did. Words are powerful and go a long way.’

Acknowledge you find saying ‘thank you’ tricky

Does this all feel a bit awkward? That’s totally fine.

Some people are uncomfortable receiving thanks, others find it tricky to give thanks. Either way, it can break the ice to acknowledge the discomfort and say straight up that while you really want to shower someone with gratitude, you’re not confident in how to nail it.

Marilyn suggests saying something like: ‘I don’t have the words to express how I feel/what this means to me so I’m just going to say a big (heartfelt) thank you.’

Keep it short and sweet if the other person seems uncomfortable

If you can feel someone cringing under the attention, don’t go on a lengthy awards-ceremony-worthy thank you speech.

Sana says: ‘Some people feel uncomfortable receiving compliments or praise, in which case make it short and sweet, “hank you so much, that meant a lot to me, I really appreciate you”.’

You can always thank them properly later, or away from an audience.

Tailor your ‘thank you’

‘A gesture of thank you is also a gesture of love; and so when thinking about how to say thank you, consider how the recipient of your thanks likes to receive shows of love – otherwise known as our personal love language,’ says Natasha. ‘For some, heartfelt words are enough, for others, a thoughtful gift or act of service may be a better way of showing your gratitude.’

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