Gratitude is a greatly under-used emotion.
Sometime around mid-November, we take it out, dust it off, put it on display and admire it for a while. Then, come January, we promptly shove it back on the shelf for another ten months.
Outside of those precious few weeks at the end of the year, when the holiday season slows things down a bit, we often don't have the time or energy to dedicate to doling out "thank yous," and fostering feelings of gratitude.
But, there's a host of research-backed benefits of being grateful for the people that help make our day-to-day lives a bit easier.
Studies have shown that people who keep gratitude journals—regularly recording the things they are thankful for—are physically, psychologically and socially better off than those who don't attend to feelings of appreciation.
They are more alert, get better sleep, have lower blood pressure (by as much as 10-15 percent), are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors (i.e. eating right, exercising regularly) and have stronger interpersonal relationships.
Here are 20 timeless ways to say thank you to the important people in your life:
- With your love: Saying, "I love you," is sometimes all the thanks a person needs.
- With your ears: Listening is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated gifts you can give. Lend a listening ear to friends, family and fellow caregivers and they will know how much you appreciate their love and support.
- With a donation: Does the recipient of your gratitude have a cause they hold close to their heart? Instead of getting them a gift card, consider making a donation in their name to their favorite charity.
- With a picture: Don't worry if your word-smithing abilities aren't on par with Shakespeare, pictures can often convey what words cannot. Find a photo that expresses your feelings of gratitude and send it with a simple thank you note.
- With a trophy: Who doesn't love an award? To show your appreciation for someone who's taken good care of you or your loved one, make a personalized plaque with a clever title: "World's Greatest Dentist," or "Number One Nurse."
- With a hug: Let's face it, we could all use one.
- With sincerity: A cardinal rule of thanking someone is to do so with genuine sincerity. It's better to say nothing at all, than to provide a person with a luke-warm, "Thanks."
- With personality: When communicating your appreciation with a gift, make sure it's tailored to the recipient's individual preferences and interests. Want to express your gratitude to a music lover? Make them a mix CD or give them a subscription to an online music site, such as Pandora or Spotify.
- With a party: Throwing a super-shindig is one way to show the social butterfly in your life how much you appreciate them. Perhaps it's a friend who occasionally coes to your home to watch your mom while you run errands, or just take a much-needed break from caregiving. Extra bonus points for composing a Toastmasters-caliber speech about their contributions and saying it in front of family and friends.
- With a referral: Did your loved one's hair dresser give them a get new do? Ask him or her for extra business cards to hand out to family and friends. From dentists to dieticians, many people who provide a professional service live off of referrals from satisfied customers.
- With a note: Receiving a hand-written thank you note provides a welcome reprieve from boisterous e-cards and impersonal form letters.
- With cake: Food is one of the few things all human beings share a common love for. Offering your appreciation in the form of a culinary creation is really a two-for-one gift of time and a tasty, tangible item. Give your loved one's in-home caregivers little loaves of banana bread, or chocolate chip muffins that they can take home to their families. You can make baked gifts more personal by whipping up the recipient's favorite dish.
- With your deeds: Actions are well-known for carrying more clout than words. After saying "thank you," to someone who's done you a service, honor their efforts by mimicking their good deed with one of your own, directed at someone else who needs help.
- With your time: Spending quality time with a friend or loved one indicates that you value the gift of their relationship. It doesn't have to be anything big—an impromptu movie night or trip to the mall with a friend you don't see very often can help keep your relationship going strong.
- With an endorsement: Publically praising someone who performs a service for you is a great way to say thank you. Give the surgeon who just gave your loved one a flawless hip replacement a five-star review on the Internet; write a note to the manager of your local grocery store about the friendly check-out clerk who helped you when you were loaded down with groceries and had to get dad out of his wheelchair and into the car.
- With a smile: Sometimes a simple smile is all you need to say "thanks."
- With your patience: Everyone has their good and bad days. Keeping your cool when a friend or family member is being frustrating demonstrates your love and commitment to preserving the relationship.
- With the unexpected: Don't be afraid to get creative when demonstrating your thanks.
- With your help: Does your sister need someone to watch her kids for a few hours while she runs errands? Could a culinarily-challenged caregiver in your support group use a few home-cooked meals? Offering to help someone who's stressed is a wonderful way to express your gratitude.
- With inclusivity: Take care to never overlook the ‘little guy'—when dispensing gifts of gratitude. The nurses and CNAs who help your loved one with daily tasks in the nursing home probably don't get enough thanks—after all, the seniors they care for are often unable (or unwilling) to express their appreciation. A short note, accompanied by a $5 gift card to Starbucks can let the staff know how much you and your loved one value their assistance.