The Primal Pleasures of the Thank-You Note

If your parents insisted on them, they may have been the only thing to ruin childhood birthdays and holidays. However, your bummer of a mom or dad was on to something when they made you write thank-you notes. They're far more powerful than any of us realized.

Researchers with the University of Texas and the University of Chicago have just released a study looking into how thank-you notes make both the writer and the recipient feel. It turns out that expressing gratitude is one of those pro-social behaviors that bond us together and even, in some ways, make us human. When we worry about the recipient of our gratitude feeling awkward, thus making us awkward while we try to compose such a note, we're doing ourselves a disservice.

Don't let that awkwardness talk you out of writing. Study participants across the board way overestimated how uncomfortable a recipient might feel and way underestimated how pleased receiving a thank-you note made them. "When we're thinking about ourselves, we tend to think about how competent we are, and whether we are going to be articulate in how we're expressing gratitude," said co-author Amit Kumar in a press release. Basically, if we get out of our own heads, we can forge some powerful connections.

So, if you're worrying about whether it's appropriate to send that thank-you note after a job interview or when you've received a gift, go for it. "It only takes a couple of minutes to compose letters like these, thoughtful ones and sincere ones," Kumar said. "It comes at little cost, but the benefits are larger than people expect."