Editor’s Note: Thought leader Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consultancy, celebrating its 20th anniversary serving clients.  Grace writes a regular column on Happiness & Leadership. Savvy’s core offerings are conducting strategic business reviews for companies at a critical juncture and coaching CEOs and their leadership teams.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Have you been disappointed after taking the time to pick out a thoughtful gift to not receive a note of thanks or even an acknowledgement? Or when you ask them if they received it, they text back only one word, “Yes”?

Sadly, these days, many young people do not take the time to express appreciation.

The young person may soon stop receiving gifts from you, but more importantly they are missing the benefits of being grateful.

Saying grace

The historical context of “saying grace” is to express a thankful phrase before eating, for gifts given by God, regardless of whether we’ve earned or deserved what we receive. As pointed out in this Oprah.com article, giving thanks embodies the “calm, gracious elegance of living fully and well.”

The medical community shares the physiological benefits from saying grace before meals; by sitting still and paying attention, people tend to eat more slowly, aiding digestion, and allowing your body time to register that it is full.

Grace Ueng

Mental benefits of giving thanks

In positive psychology research, gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, and build stronger relationships.

Marty Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people.  When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for their kindness, subjects immediately experienced a significant increase in their happiness scores. This assignment had the highest impact of all the interventions tested, with benefits lasting for an entire month. Research also showed that subjects must have a base level of emotional maturity in order to reap the benefit of increased happiness from expressing thanks.  Therefore, when they are still young, children may have to be pushed by their parent to show gratitude, to lock in this important habit for adulthood.

Gratefulness at home and work

Being grateful can improve relationships.  Research shows that couples that take the time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Managers who say “thank you” to people who work for them reap benefits. Researchers at Wharton divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group were told by the director of annual giving, how grateful she was for their efforts. The next week, the employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who didn’t.

One of Gallup’s “12 Elements of Team Success” is “in the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”  Praise and gratitude are different, yet interrelated, with praise being a deeper level of appreciation.

Set the example

In 8 Reasons Your Kid Won’t Write Thank You Notes, HuffPost senior reporter Ann Brenoff,  places the responsibility on the parent for being the role model and making the child handwrite a personalized thank you note.   Our kids grow up to be us.

Successful people say “thank you”

Last week, I noticed how two people with large followings say “thank you” often. I have a weekly call with Tal Ben-Shahar, my happiness teacher.  After sharing what is on his mind, he takes a full hour to answer questions from us.  In thoughtfully answering each raised hand, he starts his response by first saying, “thank you for your question.”

I then listened to a podcast featuring my friend, John Replogle, a Founding Partner of One Better Ventures and former CEO of Seventh Generation.  He also started many answers by first saying, “Thank you.”

Over the years, I’ve emailed my financial advisor, Rick Waechter many questions ranging from simple to very significant.   He always starts his responses by first saying, “thank you.”

What Miss Manners says in the Washington Post:

Question: I’m a younger millennial, turning 28 next month. Millennials and Generation Z have radically different attitudes toward things like work culture, dining and even thank-you cards.

We simply do not place value on thank-you cards like previous generations. It’s not that we don’t appreciate you or that we feel entitled to gifts. It’s that our way of saying “thank you” is different. We don’t expect to receive thank-you cards, so please don’t expect us to send them.

Answer: While Miss Manners has always known that etiquette will often change with the times, expressing gratitude is something upon which she will not budge. She is sure that your internal appreciation is brimming, but people who take the time to pick out presents deserve the external and explicit kind.

Miss Manners’ inbox is full of complaints to that effect, and she assures you that they are not just coming from the older generations.

How to say thank you

Recipients don’t care how the notes are phrased; they react to the warmth. The card can be just a few sentences including what the gift was and how much you like it and how you may be using it.  Then a few words about the importance or impact the person has had on you, and then close with your sincere thanks.

Photo courtesy of Grace Ueng

Touching thank you note for a high school graduation gift from the daughter of a friend.

Why Do Some People Never Say Thank you?

You may have a family member, a coworker, or classmate who seems incapable of gratitude and takes your effort for granted, as if you were obligated to do whatever you did.  People who do not say thank you invalidate the value of the person’s positive gestures. They are missing out on the opportunity to create satisfying relationships. It is possible to help them change their behavior: see details.

How can you show gratitude for your team or colleagues this week?

About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003. Specialties are strategic reviews for companies wanting to reach the next level and  conducting 360s for leaders to uncover their blind spots.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles at five technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain, then worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills. She is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School.

Grace and her team develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact-focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity. Contact us if you are facing a challenge and would like a thinking partner to work alongside you to discover new possibilities. If this column was helpful you, please Join our Happiness and Leadership community. We are grateful for you!