If you know anything at all about the science of happiness, you know that gratitude is great for our wellbeing. It rewires your brain for positivity, boosts your energy levels, and if your thankfulness is directed at someone else, makes the receiving party feel great. All of this is both research-backed and totally common sense, so why don't we actually get out there and express more gratitude?
One answer is bad habits. It's all too easy to forget to count our blessings (being around negative people doesn't help), but a new study recently published in Psychological Science suggests that inertia is only part of the story.
Apparently, we also overestimate how awkward saying thank you really is and underestimate how much joy it will bring the other person. If you knew how happy saying thank you would make people, you'd probably do more of it.
Saying 'thank you' is less awkward than you expect.
The study by University of Chicago professors Nicholas Epley and Amit Kumar (who has since moved to the University of Texas at Austin) had a simple design: gather up study subjects and ask them to write a letter of thanks, as well as predict how awkward and how happy the letter would make the recipient. The researchers then compared these predictions with the recipients' actual feelings.
So were the subjects good at guessing how much people would like being thanked? In fact, they were pretty terrible at it.
"Although expressers predicted that the recipients would feel positively about the letter, recipients reported even more surprise and delight than what the senders expected. Moreover, expressers overestimated the awkwardness that the recipient would feel," reports The Association for Psychological Science blog.
Follow up experiments comparing recipients' feelings about the letters with the anxieties of those who sent them found that while writers worried about their tone and word choice, those being thanked didn't really care about exactly how the sentiment was expressed. They were simply thrilled by the gesture.
Stop making excuses!
All of this adds up to a very simple message for all of us who have ever made excuses to avoid saying thank you. While you might tell yourself the other party already knows how you feel, that you won't be able to find the right words, or that expressing your feelings will be awkward, science has now officially busted all these excuses.
Chances are excellent the other party will be nothing but surprised and delighted to be on the receiving end of your gratitude, and you'll be happier for expressing it too.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and thank someone today.