Saying “thank you” and showing gratitude are valuable skills to master for both youth and adults. These life skills need to be practiced and developed over time. While this document focuses on 4-H members, the concepts can be used in any situation. A written and verbal thank you should be given any time you receive a gift, donation, or help—such as a letter of recommendation or assistance with your 4-H project (Rivetto 2013). A verbal thank you may also be appropriate for smaller acts of kindness, like someone opening the door for you or helping carry your belongings to project judging. Other times when offering a thank you is appropriate include: following a job interview, if someone teaches you a new skill, or when someone helps you complete a school or work project. If you do not know if you should say thank you, err on the side of being polite and say, “Thank you!”
When we appreciate someone or something, we perform an action. We demonstrate our feelings through words, actions, or both. We recognize the value of something we receive, the time someone spent with us, or their contributions to our lives.
Benefits to You and Others
A “thank you” goes well beyond good manners. Expressing gratitude has both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits, and is good for the health of yourself and others. Intrinsic feelings are those within yourself. It means you are a happier person when you help others or appreciate the positive things in your life. Grateful people tend to have a healthier heart, sleep better, are empathetic, have stronger self-esteem, and are more resilient (Lyubomirsky 2008). Extrinsic benefits, or external rewards, also occur when you show gratitude to others. Expressing gratitude, even when done for extrinsic benefits, can result in positive intrinsic feelings for all involved.
As we encounter acts of kindness, it is important to act. A display of gratitude is more valuable than solely feeling it toward others, and saying it encourages others to be more mindful and acknowledge the good in the world (Houston 2020). Keeping a gratitude jar, taking two minutes to write down three good things in a day, or reflecting on one positive experience each day helps us to recognize and train our brains to become more optimistic and positive.
The 4-H Thriving Model recognizes that positive emotionality and transcendent awareness help individuals have positive developmental outcomes (Arnold 2018). Saying thank you, writing notes, and giving gifts of gratitude help individuals find meaning and purpose, connect with others, and develop personal responsibility.
No matter what format you use to show your appreciation, there are some key components that should always be included.
When possible, use the person's name. Unless this is a relative or close family friend, use the person’s title and last name. Here are examples of common titles, both spoken and written (dictonary.com 2017):
- Mister (Mr.) for a male
- Missus (Mrs.) for a married female
- Miss for an unmarried female
- Ms., pronounced “miz,” for a female if you do not know her marital status
- Mx., usually pronounced as “mix,” for genderqueer or nonbinary people; this term is gender neutral
- Doctor (Dr.) for a medical professional or educator who has obtained that level of education
If you are writing a thank you to an organization, business, or group of people, you should determine who will receive the letter. This might be the chair or president of a committee. If you are able to identify a point of contact, address the letter to that person and recognize the remainder of the group in the written text. If you are unable to locate a point of contact, you can use “To Whom it May Concern.” Here is an example of a letter to the County 4-H Advisory Committee where the president is Chris Clover.
Dear Mr. Clover,
Thank you to the 4-H Advisory Committee for...
Thank you for…
The reason for thanking someone is important. The first part of any thank you should include the specific reason for saying thank you (Houston 2020; Rivetto 2013). If they purchased something, you should cite the item. If they donated their time or sponsored something, describe it.
Thank you to the 4-H Advisory Committee for sponsoring my $100 4-H camp scholarship.
Thank you for tutoring me in math this year.
Be sincere about why you appreciate the recipient and how it benefits you or how you will use the item/funds. This is also a great time to share what you learned, or what you hope to do in the future. Close by repeating the thank you and signing your name (Houston 2020).
Because of your generosity, I was able to attend 4-H camp this summer. This would not have been possible without your support. At camp, I got to make new friends, and go swimming and hiking. My favorite parts were the campfire skits and songs. I cannot wait to go back to camp next year and hope I get to be a camp counselor in the future. Thank you again for selecting me for this scholarship.
I really appreciate your time and patience in helping me with algebra. I was struggling to understand everything, but your explanations really helped. Thank you for having the patience to break everything down. Because of your help I finished the year with a B! Thank you for all your help!
Thank-you notes should be sent out as soon as possible. Sending them out within a month is recommended. If it is sent later, it is appropriate to apologize for being tardy in sending out the note.
"Thank You,” “I appreciate it,” “I’m so grateful!” are examples of an in-person thank you that effectively expresses gratitude. If you cannot do it in person, make a phone call or video message. When expressing your gratitude aloud, be sincere and specific. Look the person in the eye and address them by name. Your tone of voice should express the sincerity of your thank you. Showing enthusiasm helps people understand you mean what you say (Houston 2020). Adding a smile helps you deliver your message too!
Anytime you choose to give a gift as an expression of gratefulness, opt for meaning over monetary value. Often homemade gifts mean the most when you give something to be kept, displayed, and treasured (Houston 2020).
Written thank-you notes are one of the more personal ways of saying thank you. Often you may say thank you in person, and then follow up with a written note. Written notes should be neatly handwritten on an unlined card or high-quality paper (Rivetto 2013). All the components reviewed previously are included in the note.
Gratitude and thank yous are important in all aspects of our life. The previous example is specific to 4-H, but there are endless opportunities to express gratitude. The components remain the same no matter the reason.
Next is an example of a thank you letter sent after completing a job interview. Sending a thank-you note to the interviewer(s) after completing an interview is a customary practice, potentially setting a candidate apart from others. An email, written note, or both, are acceptable. Thank-you notes after a job interview should be sent the same day. The components of this example can be used for any career field—the key is to be specific to the interview.
Expressing gratitude in person and through written notes or gifts is beneficial for the recipient and the person saying thanks. Susan Whitbourne (2010) said, “Everyone benefits when thanks are freely given and just as freely acknowledged.” While individuals who are giving their time, resources, and expertise do not expect a thank you, giving gratitude effectively can make them feel appreciated and willing to continue the practice. At the same time, expressing your gratitude helps your own mental and physical health (Whitbourne 2010; Lyubomirksy 2008).
Saying thank you and expressing gratitude is a life skill that should be practiced and developed. In many instances, such as a 4-H youth thanking a volunteer or applying for a job, saying thank you can set you apart from the crowd and create additional opportunities. According to the 4-H Thriving Model, engagement in activities that develop a growth mindset, positive emotionality, and hopeful purpose lead to contribution and connection to others and many other developmental outcomes (Arnold 2018). Developing these skills leads to positive long-term outcomes, such as personal happiness and wellbeing, employability, and relationships with others.
Whiteborne, Susan Krauss. 2010. “Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Gratitude.” Psychology Today. May 25, 2010.
Arnold, Mary E. 2018. “The 4-H Thriving Model: Predicting the Impact of 4-H on Positive Youth Development.” Oregon State University Extension Service. PDF.
Dictonary.com. 2017. “What are Mr. and Mrs. Short for?”
Houston, Elaine. 2019. “How to Express Gratitude to Others: 19 Examples & Ideas.” Positive Psychology. April 9, 2019.
Lyubomirsky, Sonja. 2008. “Expressing Gratitude.” Gratefulness.org.
Rivetto, Laurie. 2013. “The Seven Steps to a Great Thank-You Note.” Michigan State University Extension. PDF.