Why You Shouldn’t Race Through Those Thank-You Notes

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Thank-you notes are the bane of newlyweds ever — they take forever, are drenched in overly saccharine language, and seem to serve little point other than adhering to an established social more. But a new study led by Lisa Williams of the University of New South Wales and published in the journal Emotion suggests that simple expressions of gratitude can help make others — even those who barely know you (those weird distant cousins of your significant other, for example) — feel more warmly toward you.

The study, UNSW’s press release explains, was designed to help test the find-remind-bind theory of gratitude, which “suggests gratitude helps people develop new relationships (find), build on existing relationships (remind), and maintain both (bind).”

In it, a group of 70 university students “were led to believe they were mentoring a high school student, and were asked to comment on a university admissions essay, supposedly written by the mentee.”

The release continues:

In reply, all mentor participants received a hand written note from their supposed mentee. In about half the cases the note included an expression of gratitude: “Thank you SO much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!”

The university students who were thanked were more likely to provide their contact details, such as their phone number or email address, for the mentee than those who were not thanked.

The grateful mentees were also rated as having significantly warmer personalities. The results suggest that the reason why people ‘find’ grateful others is because of this perceived warmth.

The usual caveats apply: This was a study of college students in a lab rather than a real-world setting, and we can’t say whether these effects lasted or were a temporary post-experiment boost. But in a case like this (hypothetical) one, something as simple as contact details really could make a difference in terms of maintaining a new mentor-mentee relationship.

So this suggests that maybe thank-you notes aren’t as pointless as some of us think they are, and, perhaps, that just a few extra words of gratitude could make a difference in otherwise pro forma correspondence. Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into reading this post.

A Little Gratitude Can Go a Long Way