Ways to Express Gratitude to Others
Ralph Waldo Emerson said about gratitude: “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
This is a broad definition but does show that gratitude is an ethical value that pertains to our personal lives, social interactions, and in the workplace.
I have blogged about being grateful and how it advances wellness in life. For example, I said about gratefulness: “Give thanks to all those who devote their lives in service to others. There are so many ways to help others. We should practice random acts of kindness and pay it forward whenever we can.”
By recognizing the way others treat you, I am linking gratitude to The Golden Rule: Treat Others the Way You Wish They Would Treat You. If we give to others, perhaps they will give to us in return. In this way, “we pay it forward.”
There are a variety of definitions of gratitude. The one I like the best is: "The appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation. This definition expands on Emerson’s and addresses the meaningfulness of gratitude".
A more comprehensive definition reflects the thought process of gratitude as follows: "Gratitude is a cognitive-affective state that is typically associated with the perception that one has received a personal benefit that was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather because of the good intentions of another person".
By linking gratitude to intentions, we recognize the ethical dimension of gratitude. In Greek Aristotelean ethics, intentions are what makes a person ethical. This assumes their intentions are good, not bad; helpful to others; not harmful; and are motivated by enhancing happiness and meaningfulness in our lives.
Positive Psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. Peterson elaborates and links that feeling to characteristic traits that we typically call virtues. Specifically, by studying human thoughts, feelings, and behavior, with a focus on strengths instead of weaknesses, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad, and taking the lives of average people up to ‘great’ instead of focusing solely on moving those who are struggling up to ‘normal,’ we strengthen our character and aim it in the right direction.
Positive Psychology identifies states and traits like gratitude, resilience, and compassion. The inclusion of compassion is important because it addresses the link between gratitude and compassion. For example, if something bad happened in your life and a friend is compassionate to you, then you should be grateful for that expression of good will.
Gratitude can deepen relationships with others and improve your overall sense of wellbeing. It is related inversely to depression, and positively to life satisfaction.
Gratitude can improve your outlook on life, increase happiness, enhance self-control, contribute towards better physical and mental health, and the end result can be to lead an overall qualitatively better life. Don’t we all seek this in our relationships and interactions with others?
In a study by Seligman, Steen, and Peterson, the authors gave participants one week to write and deliver a letter of thanks, in person, to someone who had been especially kind to them—but who had never been properly thanked. The authors describe the gratitude visit as follows:
- First, think of someone who has done something important and wonderful for you, yet who you feel you have not properly thanked.
- Next, reflect on the benefits you received from this person, and write a letter expressing your gratitude for all they have done for you.
- Finally, arrange to deliver the letter personally, and spend time with this person talking about what you wrote.
Now some of you may say, why not just send an email expressing gratitude. The reason is simple. It would be impersonal and relatively meaningless to use an email or text message to show gratitude, which is personal response to a personal good deed someone has done for you. Approaching them directly shows you truly care about them and what they have done for you, the essence of gratitude.
My final advice is to practice gratitude every day. It can be to a spouse, family member, friend, workplace associate, and even someone you don’t know. Gratitude shown to others can lead to gratitude shown to you and it will enhance your wellbeing. It can lead to a happier, more fulfilled life.
Go now and practice expressing gratitude to another person. How did that person react to receiving your thanks? I bet they showed you gratitude in return. I bet you feel better about yourself.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 26, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.