How Saying “Thank You” Improves Your Brain

We grew up hearing “mind your manners” and “say thank you,” but most of us assumed it was so we didn’t embarrass our parents. Little did we know it was also a way to boost our emotional intelligence.

See, we’re emotional creatures — we’re hardwired that way. But we’re not hardwired to know what to do about all those feelings. That’s where Emotional Intelligence (EQ) comes in. It’s the ability to understand our own emotions and the emotions of others. Once we’re more aware, our responses to those emotions begin to change too.

Raising your EQ changes the way you see yourself, the people around you, and the way you go about your work, particularly in HR. See, the more you understand people, the better your perceptions, interactions, and conversations become — even crucial conversations.

Becoming Aware

Emotional Intelligence isn’t fixed like your IQ or personality. It’s something we can work on and improve and the first step to an improved EQ is self-awareness.

So, where do we mess up? What blinds us to our own emotions and the emotions of others?


Before you can improve your EQ, you have to get your stress under control. We all know stress is bad. It compromises the immune system. It’s linked to heart disease, obesity, depression. Because of stress, people miss work (which costs Australia $14.2 billion per year), develop panic disorders, lose sleep, and overeat. It’s bad news, to say the least.

Healthy Stress

Stress can be a good thing too. In fact, stress and anxiety are absolutely necessary emotions to the way we function. Intermittent mild stress motivates us to act. Plus, it prompts the brain to create the cells responsible for improved memory. That’s why we see optimal performance with mild to moderate stress levels. Without stress, we end up in a depressive state of boredom.

But, when stress gets out of control, we move into anxiety and meltdown land. Stress at this level doesn’t just affect our health — it causes degeneration in the area of the brain responsible for self-control. It’s a vicious cycle (and a delicate balance). When you don’t control your stress, you actually diminish your capacity for self-control and your future capacity for managing stress.

We need stress, but we also need the skills to keep it in moderation. Tools like breathing exercises, going for a walk, and taking a break from work help bring high stress back down to a moderate level. Even though they’re simple skills, they’re extremely powerful.

An Attitude of Gratitude

There’s another tool that’s even more simple but can make an even bigger difference: being thankful.

A study at UC Davis found the significance of cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Something as simple as a “thankful reminder” can bring stress levels from high to moderate. Here’s how the study worked:

There were two groups: a control group and a test group with a reminder in their calendar to pause and think about something they were grateful for multiple times a day. The people who paused for moments of gratitude experienced a 23% reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. That’s just from pausing from their routine — just for a moment — to be thankful.

Stress isn’t fun to think about, but we only get better when we lean into the discomfort of knowing about our weaknesses. Then, we can work on getting better.

Starting this work is simple: just be thankful.

Whether you’re getting ready for a crucial conversation at work, or just getting ready for the holidays with family drama, set yourself up for success. Saying “thank you” could be just the ticket you need to see things more clearly.

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