How to Say Thank You

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

This ridiculously simple change to how you say thank you will make it much more effective.

UC Berkeley's Emiliana Simon-Thomas says "Gratitude 1-2-3" has big benefits for both you and those you thank.

When most of us say thank you, we should be much more specific. That advice comes from Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., science director at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. That's why she recommends what she calls "Gratitude 1-2-3," a way of thanking people that takes just a little extra time and effort, but can provide huge benefits to both you and them.

When one of your team members does a really good job, or someone does you a favor, how do you thank you? "Thanks, that was great!" "Thanks a million!" Or just, "Thanks!" Does that sound about right?

There's nothing particularly wrong with that. But you're missing the opportunity to provide a much more effective and meaningful expression of gratitude, Simon-Thomas explains. "We know empirically that if you are more grateful as a person, you do better," she said. "Your physical health is better, your mental health is better, you're more resilient to stress." Grateful people are more apt to learn and grow from difficult experiences, she added. 

With that in mind, Simon-Thomas recommends having a gratitude practice that will help strengthen your bonds with the people you interact with. Her Gratitude 1-2-3 is simple and quick and will benefit others as well as yourself. Here's how it works:

1. Be specific about what you're saying thank you for

Simon-Thomas says most people are pretty good at expressing gratitude to others. "What we're bad at is expressing our gratitude with enough specificity to really reap the benefits of the felt experience ourselves, and to draw out the strongest response from the person we're saying thank you to."

To get the most out of a thank-you, begin by saying specifically what you are thanking the other person for. As an example, when she was speaking on a radio show hosted by Dave Feldman, she said: "Instead of just saying, 'Hey, thanks, Dave, that was great,' I can say, 'Dave, thank you for inviting me to be on the show with you.'" That puts you and the person you're thanking into what she calls a "shared mental space," both of you considering the nice thing that person did.

2. Acknowledge the effort involved

Make it clear that you're aware of the effort others have made to help you out. For example, Simon-Thomas might tell Feldman, "I know you have a long list of really wonderful guests that you could have invited, and you probably had to look around for my email and try to figure out where I am." That acknowledgement can make the other person feel understood and validated.

3. Describe how it benefits you

This is an important step, because it's the only part of Gratitude 1-2-3 that the other person won't already know. Still using the radio show as an example, Simon-Thomas said, "I feel like what I do and how I focus my career has some degree of importance because it's worthy of being invited to be on this live show that you do." 

Compared with the small effort involved, the benefits of Gratitude 1-2-3 are huge, Simon-Thomas said. "Let's get in the habit of this specific and effective expression of gratitude to one another," she added.