The Secret to Being Well-Liked (And It’s Easier Than You Think.)

There is a word that does almost as much in its absence as it does in its presence. It’s one of the earliest words we are taught and is right up there with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for importance.

The word is ‘thank you’, and now the research is in on why it matters so much.

Research has previously demonstrated the importance of warmth (friendliness, thoughtfulness) and responsiveness in maintaining relationships and facilitating new ones.

One of the ways is by and enhancing the way an interaction is perceived and remembered later on.

A recent study has looked specifically at the role that expressing gratitude plays on social relationships, and has found that saying ‘thank you’ does more than tick the good manners box.

Extending, or not extending, gratitude affects the way we are seen by others. Saying thank you gives the impression that you are someone who has the potential of forming a high-quality relationship, making it more likely that others will seek an ongoing social relationship with you.

The Australian-led study was based on the find-remind-and-bind theory of gratitude, which suggests that gratitude:

  1. underpins new relationships (find);
  2. steers people toward existing relationships (remind); and
  3. enhances and maintains both (bind).

The study specifically tested the ‘find’ part of the theory.


The Study: What They Did

The study involved 70 participants who were asked to act as mentors to high school students by giving the students advice on a writing sample they were intending to use for their university admission.

All participants later received a handwritten note from their supposed mentee. Half the notes were simply an acknowledgement of their advice. For the other half of the participants, the note included an expression of gratitude from the mentee, ‘Thank you SO much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!’

Participants then completed a series of questionnaires to measure their impressions of the mentee and advised that if they wanted, they could reciprocate and leave the mentee a note. This was done to see how gratitude affected the formation of a social connection. It was left up to the participants to decide whether or not they left their contact details in the note.

What They Found

The participants who received a note that expressed gratitude were over one third more likely to extend the effort to continue the relationship by leaving their contact details, compared to those who only received an acknowledgement.

Researchers found that the mentees who expressed gratitude were seen as being significantly warmer people.


Those who express gratitude are not only seen as warmer, but are more likely to engender gratitude from others.

Gratitude also facilitates social connections, with people more likely to ‘find’ grateful others because of their perceived warmth.

‘Our findings represent the first known evidence that expression of gratitude facilitates the initiation of new relationships among previously unacquainted people,’ explained research and psychologist Dr Lisa Williams.

Perceived warmth is an important element of building and maintaining social relationships. It’s easy to dismiss a simple ‘thank you’ as unimportant but research clearly says otherwise, showing it to be an important factor in how others perceive us.

Scientists have found that on top of this, gratitude has plenty of other benefits. It can:

  1. strengthen immune systems;
  2. lower blood pressure;
  3. increase positive emotions such as joy, optimism and happiness;
  4. promote generosity and compassion; and
  5. diminish feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The core of gratitude is expressing appreciation for what you have rather than what you need or want.

 Lack of appreciation is a major contributor to the downfall of relationships. People on their way out of a relationship commonly report ‘not feeling appreciated’ as a major reason for their decision to leave.

Saying ‘thank you’ is an acknowledgement that enough has been given, and that the effort is not only notice, but appreciated. Saying it with eye contact is a way to ensure an impact. Few things convey more warmth, generosity and openness.

It’s no wonder then, that in a world that often feels like it wants more from us, ‘thank you’ can be a game changer in relationships, new and old.

2 Comments

Barbara Couturier

I am alone, have been for four years. My husband died, my daughter decided his life insurance money was hers not mine, literally physically moved me in with her and in 3 months it was gone. “She said she wanted me gone yesterday.”

Told everyone I was a drug addict, including my Grandchildren. In the state I was in it appeared so.
I lost everyone and everything.

I got off all the pills, but those pain meds I still need them. I don’t take them. Wheelchair bound its soon,
all that is left for me is a medicare rest home.

I am what happened to me.
I am sad lonely I sound bitter but I am afraid.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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