Last weekend, my husband and I attended a thank you dinner hosted by a local equine therapy program. We support the program because it provides an amazing service to our community: Children and adults with any kind of special needs—physical, medical, emotional, or behavioral—can participate in therapeutic horseback riding at little to no cost.

The program is personally meaningful because our oldest child has special needs and benefits from it. However, we were never interested in any kind of thanks or special recognition for supporting the program; we simply appreciate what the organization provides and want to be part of its success.

But you know what? It was really nice to receive such a kind expression of gratitude through the dinner.

That kind of appreciation doesn’t have to be limited to your personal life. Saying “Thank you” is an often overlooked way to invest in yourself professionally. So, as we enter the beginning of the season of thankfulness and gratitude, here’s how to make the most of saying those two small words.

Recognize Help When You Get It

It can be easy to blow through a busy day, never slowing down enough to recognize when—or how much—someone helps you and instead, overemphasizing your own contributions. But that can be a dangerous habit. Think about a time when you helped someone, but he or she couldn’t be bothered to say, “Hey, thanks!” Do you recall that event fondly? Do you associate it with positive feelings toward the person? I didn’t think so.

To use gratitude as a way to build your reputation, relationships, and career, you need to start paying attention to the times you benefit from someone else.

How has someone helped you today? This week? The past six months? Maybe someone talked you through a minor technical glitch, brought you a refill on your coffee, or lent you a pen in a meeting. Be sure to actually say the words “Thank you” for these small gestures.

When someone goes beyond a small, simple gesture to assist you, consider sending a thank you email, card, or even a small gift. Maybe a colleague stayed late to help you work through an issue with one of your projects. Does she like cupcakes? Try surprising her with her favorite flavor. Maybe a colleague put in a good word for you with a key player in his network. An email or handwritten thank you card is in order. Perhaps your supervisor went to bat to get you a significant raise or a promotion. That’s also worth a handwritten note or a reasonable gift, like flowers, lunch, or a surprise delivery of his or her favorite order at Starbucks.

Be Genuine in Your Appreciation

I have two thank you notes pinned to my bulletin board right now. The author sent each note after an event I was involved with, noting details that let me know she understood how much work went into each function. I would bend over backward for her because I’m so grateful that she notices and genuinely appreciates the things I do. The keyword here, however, is “genuine.”

Tossing a quick “thanks” over your shoulder as an afterthought or sending a blanket, “Thanks for all you do” email that doesn’t acknowledge a person’s specific contributions won’t build relationships—and in fact, may actually do more damage than good. After a while, shallow, absentminded gratitude conveys you really don’t know (or care) what the person on the receiving end does. That’s a recipe for resentment.

On the other hand, say your note sounds something like this: “The unveiling event was wonderful. I know you put a lot of work in behind the scenes to make it come together. Every detail seemed to be in order, from the food to the programs to the speakers. You did an excellent job!” Those details convey that even if you don’t know exactly what the recipient does, you understand the effort behind the results, and you care enough to note it.

When you’re saying thanks, specific statements go a lot further than vague, blanket statements.

Reap the Benefits

When you start paying attention to the ways people help you and expressing genuine gratitude for that help, get ready to reap the rewards. Research links gratitude to a number of personal benefits, including increased happiness, improved sleep, better overall health, and improved relationships.

If, by practicing gratitude, you’re sleeping well and are generally happier, then you’re likely to be more productive and satisfied at work. In addition, your professional relationships will benefit from your attitude of gratitude. Just think: Have you ever helped a colleague, who later took all of the credit for that work? Now, do you remember someone who went out of his or her way to recognize and thank you for something you did? Which person are you most likely to help if he or she comes calling for your support again? The latter, of course. You want to be the gracious person people don’t mind helping.

The year is quickly coming to a close. For the rest of 2015, I challenge you to pay attention to the many ways people around you lend a hand and say “Thank you” to someone at least one time each day. Beyond that, think of how someone has helped you in an important way over the past year, and write that person a genuine and specific note.

With a little gratitude, you’ll reap rewards in your personal and professional life—and start the new year on the right foot!

Photo of writing note courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020