Thank you to the Rotary Club, without which I never would have gone abroad as a high school student, learned a foreign language, gained a second family, gained an education, got recruited to work in that country because of the language, had a wonderful first career, met my husband, and — well, you get the idea.

Thank you to my neighbor, who, when we moved in, pulled us into the fold of the best neighborhood in Moore County. Without the wonderful people in this neighborhood, my children would have never started playing golf, I would have worried when we were away, my home would be unwatched, the dog unpetted, and we would have missed so many great block parties.

Thank you to a colleague from one of my local charities who came over last week to do some work, and knowing I was alone without family, brought food and beautiful flowers and brightened my day.

Why am I gushing thank-yous? Because I, like many of us, have become lazy, even negligent, at taking the time to show gratitude.

Why are we doing this less? Is it a generational thing? Is it the internet’s fault? Can we blame social media? Perhaps the answer is “yes” to all of these things. But that is no excuse for failing to show a little appreciation now and then. 

I am involved with a number of charities that give out grants. At a recent meeting, we had a conversation about how grant recipients seemed to be thrilled to receive thousands of dollars, but then became too busy to deliver post-grant updates and post-award thank-yous. Some members were upset about this. I didn’t really notice until they brought it up. But now, I notice it everywhere.

Showing appreciation makes me think of one particular neighbor of mine who has the manners of my long-past grandfather. Every time I hosted a party or did something for her, a note would show up in the mail. Handwritten. They made me feel special and think: Whatever she needs next time, I’m there.

Handwritten notes impress me. But so does a thoughtful email, phone call or even an SMS text. Gratitude shared is double happiness. And who doesn’t want to feel needed and appreciated? It’s such a small gesture that pays back in spades. 

Psychologists, and their many research papers, agree that we would all feel better if we shared more gratitude. Showing appreciation is a mutually beneficial act. Not only do you feel good by sharing gratitude, but the person receiving it feels appreciated and more willing to help in the future — like me with my hand-writing-note neighbor.

A disingenuous thank-you (such as a note from a businessperson who want to sell something) or the absence of a thank-you could be even harmful to a relationship.  Only 15 percent of us say thank you at work, and 35 percent say their mangers never thank them at work, according to Harvard researchers. Yet the same researchers say that case studies have shown that people work harder and are more committed to managers and friends who take the time to show gratitude.

One specific research project, also at Harvard, had a group of people write about things they were grateful for weekly for 10 weeks. Another group wrote only about things that irritated them. After just that short period, the gratitude writers were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, exercised more, and visited the doctor less frequently.

Imagine a world where we all find time to say thank you — before time runs out on us. A friend from graduate school in Europe who now lives in Canada found an old hidden note recently from her father taped to the back of a picture of her and her siblings. The handwritten index card said,  “Mom’s gone. But look what she left me. I love them dearly.”

My friend exuded warmth and happiness from that note when she posted it on social media, and many people shared in her happiness with kind comments. We should all be so lucky to have people in our lives like that. We should all be so lucky to learn to be the person others want in their lives like that. Offering a meaningful thank-you is free. The return on that small investment is immeasurable. 

Thank you, reader, for reading this column today. 

Marybeth Sandell teaches journalism and communications at the University of North Carolina in Pembroke.

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