Yes, Send That Thank You Note

People like getting thank you notes. So why do so few of us send them? According to Amit Kumar, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies well-being, it’s because people underestimate the appeal of receiving an appreciative email. In a study conducted by Kumar and Professor Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago (, researchers found that people also fear that the note may appear insincere and might make the recipient feel uncomfortable.
In the study, over 100 participants in each of four experiments were asked to write a short “gratitude letter” to someone who’d affected them in some way. Sample letters included expressions of thanks to friends who offered guidance through the college admissions process, job searches and other stressful times. After receiving thank-you notes and filling out questionnaires about how it felt to get them, many said they were “ecstatic,” scoring their happiness rating at 4 of 5. The senders typically guessed they’d evoke a 3.
Dr. Kumar observed that it took most subjects less than five minutes to write the letters. So, what are people waiting for? Along with underestimating the value of sending such notes to others, many seemed to be concerned with how much their writing would be scrutinized. As it turned out, most recipients didn’t care how the notes were phrased; they cared about warmth. And they also tended to judge the writing itself as very competent.
In all, says Dr. Kumar, “People tend to undervalue the positive effect they can have on others for a tiny investment of time.”