25 Ways to Say Thanks


"Thank you."

Those two little words (or "thanks" if you want to be quick about it) can mean a lot. Or, depending on how you wield them, they can mean almost nothing. Just like "How are you?" or "I love you," "Thank you" is a phrase that can hold great weight or have all the heft and permanence of a morning fog.

I've been thinking recently about how I say thank you. Like many people, I was taught growing up that when someone gave me a birthday or Christmas gift, I had to send that person a thank-you note. Writing those notes a child, I don't remember thinking much about how I was actually thankful for the gifts; rather, I considered the process of writing thank-you notes akin to brushing your hair. It wasn't something I wanted to do, but it was one of those things that people just did

Recently, though, I have both received some thanks that really touched me and wanted to show my appreciation to people in a way that resonated, which led me to compiling the list below. With every single one of these ideas, I would say there are two important things to always keep in mind: Be sincere and show that you care, just as someone recently cared for you. (See also: You're Doing It Wrong, Moron: 5 Tips for Giving Better Compliments)

1. Write a Note

For all of my grumbling about writing thank-you notes as a child, I believe that a considered, personal thank-you note is almost always a great way to show gratitude — especially if it's written on real, made-from-wood-pulp paper. Saying thanks over email or in an e-card is increasingly prevalent because it's easy. But the effort it takes to make or buy a card, or even just write on a piece of lined paper, shows that you really care.

2. Give Food

Sweet or savory, homemade or store-bought, food is always a good way to say thanks. Whether you're making dinner or buying cookies, do what you can to find out what the person you're thanking likes. While the gesture is still, erhm, "sweet," your thank you will be a little awkward if you make peanut-butter cookies for someone with a peanut allergy.

3. Clean Something

A room, a car, a house, a dog — the gift of your time and elbow grease is a great way to show your appreciation.

4. Return Items in Better Condition Than When You Borrowed Them

If someone lent you something, show how much you appreciate it by taking better-than-good care of it. Similarly, if you were given something in borrowed Tupperware, return it with food in it (and I'm not talking about old leftovers).

5. Say It as a Surprise

One of the sweetest thanks I ever heard of was from an old college classmate. While we were working in the photo lab one day, she reached in her pocket and pulled out a note her boyfriend had put there for her to find.

6. Say It in Public

Everyone likes to be recognized (well, most of the time — please don't surround me in a circle of clapping waitstaff if I am celebrating my birthday at your restaurant). Whether at work, on your blog, or in front of a group of friends or family, share why you're thankful for the person or people.

7. Return the Favor

Performing favors shouldn't be an eye-for-an-eye situation, but if someone gave you a ride, watched your kids, or helped you out in another way, do the same or look for another favor you could do.

8. Give a Little Gift Card

Give an unexpected gift card of $5 or $10 to a coffee shop or bookstore. Just don't purchase a little gift card to something like an expensive restaurant. That's like saying, "Thanks, now go spend a lot of your own money to use this gift." Kind of weird.

9. Pick Up the Bill

If you're out for coffee or a meal, pay the tab.

10. Say It on the Phone

Hearing someone's voice can be powerful. Call before you email.

11. Do It Face-to-Face

Even better than on the phone, say thank you face-to-face. Showing that you're making an effort is touching.

12. Donate to a Charity

Instead of spending money directly on the person you'd like to thank, donate that money to the person's favorite charity in his or her name.

13. Be Happy

Did someone do something that made you happy? Say it, and show it. There are plenty of other times to whine and worry. Remember to be grateful and enjoy what you were given, and the person will be happy that he was able to brighten your day.

14. Organize Others

If you're part of a group thanking an individual or another group, be the one to organize everyone, whether it's all signing a card, pitching in for a gift, or arranging a get-together. Don't wait for someone else to do it. If you're not the person who "should be" in charge of such a rally, reach out to the person who would be (such as a boss) and ask if you can arrange something. There's a good chance that person will agree — and be thankful someone else it taking care of it.

15. Give an Award

This can be as big and serious or as easy and silly as you want. On the easy and silly side, draw a certificate, create a trophy by gluing together thrift-store finds, or buy an award ribbon — many designs are available for around a dollar at party stores.

16. Take a Picture

Snap a picture showing how you're using someone's gift, and send it over in an email or a card.

17. Make a Recommendation

If a coworker really came through for you, tell her boss or offer a recommendation on LinkedIn. You might just help her get a raise, promotion, or new job.

18. Teach a Skill

Offer to teach something you know, whether it's cooking, knitting, or something less practical but amusing like how to say curse words in another language.

19. Pay It Forward

Say thanks by doing something nice for someone else. This isn't the most direct thank you, because you certainly don't want to go reporting your good deed back to the person who did something for you and sound like you're looking for approval.

20. Make Art

Find a decorative way to say thanks. This can be as intensive or as easy as you like, from cross-stitching and framing a thank-you note (you crafty person, you), to drawing a doodle that someone could tack up in a cubicle.

21. Give Flowers

Flowers are unnecessary, temporary, and certainly not useful — but that's part of why I love them as a thank-you gift. They're absolutely lovely to have around and an indulgence that most people never purchase for themselves. Plus, since they have a limited life, flowers won't sit around adding to an accumulation of stuff. You can also go the long-lasting route and buy a small potted plant like an African Violet or even an herb for the kitchen.

22. Ask About Needs

While it might ruin the element of surprise, asking people what they need also ensures that you're giving them something they really could use.

23. Give Something Useful

Too often, thank-you gifts are needless stuff that while appreciated, just tends to accumulate. Instead, say thanks by giving something that can be used. I've received reusable shopping bags as wedding favors, awesome metal water bottles from employers, and a personalized notebook from a friend.

24. Make Time

Schedules are hectic. There is always, always something else to do. Simply making time for a person — to talk, to help out, to even just watch a movie together — is a great way to show that you care.

25. Just Say It

While I love meaningful, considered thanks, be careful not to over-think it. If you hem and haw too long about how to thank someone, there's always the risk that you just won't. Even if it's just an email, or a moment while you walk by in the hallway, let people know how much you appreciate what they did.

What is your favorite way to say thanks?

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Mikey Rox's picture

So many of these are excellent ideas that people just don't think about. Thanks very much, Meg, for reminding me how to say thanks in unexpected and surprising ways. I especially like the idea of taking a picture of myself using a gift. I'll definitely do that in the future.

Meg Favreau's picture

Glad you enjoyed it, Mikey! Something related to taking a picture that I remembered after posting this is creating a video. A couple I knew posted personalized thank-you videos online after their wedding instead of sending notes. Some might argue that writing physical cards post-wedding is a tradition that shouldn't be broken, but I thought it was such a neat way to be frugal and come off as even more personal than they might've in a note.

Guest's picture

This is a quaint but very relevant and universal article. People help out oneanother everyday and it gratifies them (as well as encourages the continuation of the cycle) to know they are appreciated and made some small difference in the world. Although common practice, an obligatory hallmark thank you note is little more than an empty observance. I remember each and every one of the instances in which I was thanked in a special way-though none of them were extravagant- and how much it meant to me to this day.

Guest's picture
Drew Custer

Meg, these are great. Saying thanks is such an important part of life, and it's SO important that we don't forget it. We all like to be thanked, so we need to think of others when they help us out in some way.

Many people forget this all too easily these days.

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks Drew! So glad you enjoyed the piece.

Guest's picture
Meetra Nahavandi

I practice gratitude on a daily basis, but all too often I feel our society has let gratitude for the minor things in life fall under the radar. We should all be thankful for everything and everyone we have in life, because not everyone is as fortunate. Sometimes, I feel I am being annoying to my friends and family that I express gratitude often towards or create notes for them expressing my thanks, but I feel if we do not share it with them often enough, we may miss the opportunity to tell them. Even if you have only a small handful of people with you in your life journey, be thankful and grateful for their presence. I always find 3-4 different things to start and end the day with being grateful for. It really works wonders. :)