Gratitude is a greatly underused emotion. Each year 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 place it back on the shelf for another ten months.
Outside of those precious few weeks at the end of the year when holiday gestures and gatherings abound, we often don’t have the time or energy for giving thanks and fostering feelings of gratitude. But, research shows that there are a number of benefits associated with expressing gratitude for the people who help make our day-to-day lives easier and happier.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Studies have shown that people who write gratitude letters and keep gratitude journals to regularly record the things they are thankful for are physically, psychologically and socially better off than those who don’t attend to feelings of appreciation. Gratitude writers are more alert, get better sleep, have lower blood pressure, are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors (e.g., eating right, exercising regularly) and have stronger interpersonal relationships.
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude breaks down this emotion into two main parts. The first is an affirmation of goodness in the world, in other people and in the gifts and benefits we have received. The second component requires us to acknowledge that many of the sources of goodness in our lives are outside of ourselves. Practicing gratitude can be challenging, but Emmons’ research shows that those who do so are more mindful, less prone to negativity, anxiety and depression, and more resilient under stress. Cultivating a healthy sense of gratitude can also transform how we see ourselves and assess our self-worth.
Creative Ways to Say “Thank You”
While the benefits of acknowledging your gratitude are personally significant, expressing these feelings to those around you can help spread the positive effects. Instead of extending a simple “thank you,” try these 20 timeless ways to express how much you appreciate 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 underappreciated gifts you can give. Lend an ear to friends, family and fellow caregivers and they will know how much you care about them and wish to reciprocate their love and support.
With a donation.Does a special person in your life have a cause that is dear to their heart? Instead of getting them a trinket or a gift card, consider making a donation in their name to their favorite charity. It doesn’t have to be a substantial donation to convey your understanding of how important the matter is to them.
With an image.Pictures can convey feelings that words alone cannot. Find a photo that expresses your feelings of gratitude and send it with a simple thank you note. It could be a photograph of you two together, a quick sketch, a comic or an image you find online—whatever visually represents how you feel.
With a trophy.Who doesn’t love an award? To recognize someone who has gone out of their way to take good care of you or your loved one, make a personalized paper certificate or plaque with a clever title, like “World’s Greatest Dentist” or “Number One Nurse.” It may sound hokey, but it shows your appreciation and encourages the person to keep up the excellent work.
With a hug.Let’s face it, we could all use one. Human touch is important for good mental and physical health, but physical contact tends to fall by the wayside in our busy and increasingly digital culture. Take a moment to literally reach out and let someone know you care. This method is particularly effective for communicating with elders who cannot speak.
With sincerity.A cardinal rule of thanking someone is to say it like you mean it. Do it with a smile and gussy it up a little bit. Let the person know, “I couldn’t have done this without you,” or, “Your help means a great deal to me.” It’s underwhelming to receive a lukewarm, “Thanks,” so make a point of including why you’re appreciative and how much they mean to you.
With personality.When communicating your appreciation with a gift, make sure it’s tailored to the recipient’s individual preferences and interests. For example, if you want to express your gratitude to a music lover, make them a thoughtful and personalized playlist, or give them a subscription to an online music streaming service like Pandora or Spotify. Small gestures that take some thought and effort are far more meaningful than pricey, generic gifts.
With a celebration.Throwing a shindig in a person’s honor is one way to show the social butterfly in your life how much you appreciate them. Perhaps it’s for a friend who occasionally comes to your home to watch your dad while you run errands or the ladies from church who take Mom out for lunch one day each week. Putting together a small gathering or celebratory meal lets the honorary guest(s) know how important they are to you, your loved one and the rest of the care team. You get bonus points for giving a brief speech or toast about their contributions in front of family and friends.
With a referral.Did your loved one’s hair dresser give them a great new do? Ask them for extra business cards to hand out to family and friends. Many people who provide professional services thrive on good word of mouth to expand their businesses and gain new customers.
With a note.Unlike a quick email or phone call, a hand-written card shows the recipient that their actions are deserving of a proper thank you. Even if you already expressed your gratitude in person, sending a follow-up note in the mail is a pleasant surprise that lets them know your appreciation is not fleeting. But, don’t worry about buying a special greeting card or writing a long letter inside. A few heartfelt sentences on a blank card go a very long way.
With culinary treats.Food is one of the few things all human beings share a common love of. Expressing your thanks in the form of a homemade dish is nourishing for a person’s body and soul. For example, give your in-home caregivers little loaves of banana bread or chocolate chip muffins that they can take home to their families. Sweets are go-to gifts, but a savory side or entrée can do double duty by reducing the recipient’s workload and freeing up some time that they would have otherwise spent making a meal.
With your deeds.Actions are known for carrying more clout than words. After thanking someone who has done you a service, honor their efforts by paying forward their good deed. Share the love by doing something for someone else who needs help.
With your time.Spending quality time with a friend or family member—even when you’re stretched thin—indicates that you value your relationship with them. It doesn’t have to be anything big. An impromptu movie night or cup of coffee with someone you care about can help keep your connection strong and show that you are willing to invest time and effort to help it grow.
With an endorsement.Publicly praising someone who performs a service for you is a great way to say “thank you” and boost their confidence. Give the skilled and attentive surgeon who just handled your loved one’s hip replacement a shining review online. Write a note to the manager of your local grocery store about the friendly check-out clerk who helped you juggle a load of groceries while trying to transfer Dad from his wheelchair into the car. Give a personal shout out on Facebook to your sister for watching Mom for a few days so you could have a weekend off from caregiving. Everyone deserves praise for a job well done.
With a smile.Sometimes a genuine 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 expressing your gratitude. Writing a short poem, running a quick errand or giving a flower you found in your garden can all brighten a person’s day and make them feel appreciated. Think outside the box.
With your help.Reciprocity is very important in relationships. The best way to show your appreciation is to return the favor. Does your sister need someone to watch her kids for a few hours while she runs errands? Could your neighbor who keeps an eye on Mom from time to time use some assistance with the yardwork? Ensuring give and take will help to create a strong, supportive and mutually beneficial relationship for everyone involved.
With inclusivity.Take care to never overlook the “little guy” when showing your gratitude. For example, the aides, care attendants and CNAs who help your loved one with daily tasks in the nursing home probably don’t get enough thanks. After all, many of the seniors they care for aren’t exactly keen on their assistance or are unable (or unwilling) to express their appreciation. A short note or $5 gift card to Starbucks can let professional caregivers know how much you and your loved one value their hard work.