Envelope with hearts and the words "Thank you!" written on the back.

Gratitude: the nicest way to change the world

How would you like to change the world for the better and make yourself feel better, too? There’s one simple activity that could cause more ripple effects through your community than you can imagine: expressing your gratitude.

“Thank you for making my day better!”

In 2012, Amelia was studying abroad. She was homesick and depressed, and looking for ways to change things around. She read an article claiming that gratitude was good for mental health, and – being Amelia – she immediately made herself a project and set an ambitious goal. Every day, for 100 days, she thanked someone who had directly made her day better. She designed and printed little cards that said, “Thank you for making my day better!” on one side, with space to add specific details on the other.

For the first few days, she focused on the friends and contacts she had made on campus, and the project was easy. But then she had to start looking around – who else was she thankful for? Who else was contributing positively to her days?

That’s when the project got interesting.

The security guard who patrolled campus at night teared up when he received his card. So did the friendly lady on the supermarket till and the woman in the cinema. Only 17 cards in, Amelia had to put down the project and recalibrate. She had stumbled onto something she hadn’t anticipated: expressing her gratitude wasn’t just making her feel better. She was making others feel appreciated, and seen – and that was even more powerful.

Start close to home, and work your way out

Expressing your gratitude doesn’t have to be a complicated project. Start by calling, texting or writing to your friends and family to let them know how much they mean to you. We often take the ones closest to us for granted, so acknowledging everything they do for you can be a very healing exercise for any relationship.

Then, if you have the courage, start acknowledging strangers – either verbally, in writing, through notes and gifts (like cinnamon rolls), or by leaving feedback and reviews.

You don’t have to set yourself a 100-day goal, or print cards especially designed for the job. Send a postcard to your favourite radio station to thank the host for making your commute better; email the delivery company to tell them how great Dan with the Van’s delivery was; tear out a page from your journal and scribble a hasty thank-you note to the guy who held the door for you on the tube; write a letter to your favourite author to tell them how you feel about their work.

Feeling seen and appreciated are fundamental needs, and when people notice how happy your gratitude makes them, they are often inspired to express gratitude of their own. You feel better, they feel better, they make others feel better, and so on.

All you have to do is notice: who is making your life better? Then express that gratitude.

This way, we can change the world, one thank you at a time.