There Are 4 Ways to Express Gratitude—and Only 1 Is Sure to Convey That You’re Genuine

Photo: Getty Images/Luis Alvarez
Acts of gratitude are a great means of connecting with people—socially, professionally, or otherwise—and also grounding yourself. But that's no secret. What you may not be aware of, however, is that expressions of gratitude are limited to four different types.

When studying gratefulness of children for a 1938 study, Swiss psychologist Franziska Baumgarten-Tramer categorized expressions of gratitude into four different modes—verbal, concrete, connective, and finalistic—providing the framework for how we still understand and experience it. So since it's clearly a good concept to understand and be familiar with, below find a rundown of each of the four expressions of gratitude—and be sure to bookmark the single one that really conveys you're genuinely appreciative.

1. Verbal gratitude

No surprises here: Verbal gratitude is the act of saying "thank you" or, if you're really edgy, "thanks." This is the level of gratefulness you likely project in your day-to-day interactions, and that's fine.

The caveat is that since many regard verbal gratitude as the baseline for politeness rather than an offering of genuine appreciation, a thank you should be a knee-jerk reaction. To differentiate degrees of verbal gratitude between, say, offering thanks to your barista who filled your iced coffee and your co-worker who covered for you when you were stuck in traffic and late to work, additions like eye contact, smiling, and undivided attention can help convey how serious and authentic you are. (Though, being genuinely grateful to your barista for fueling your morning is a good thing, too.)

2. Concrete gratitude

This expression of gratitude requires delivering something—you guessed it—concrete to convey your appreciation beyond just words. It often takes the form of a token of your appreciation. But, be mindful to make sure these small gifts don't skew narcissistic in nature (read: giving something you'd like to receive without thinking about the recipient's preferences). For instance, if the person you're trying to thank follows a gluten-free nutrition plan, bringing them fresh, flaky pastries might not be the best way to go. But, if you make sure to be thoughtful, you're nearly certain to brighten someone's day by invoking concrete gratitude.

3. Connective gratitude

Of the four expressions of gratitude, this one is the best way to convey that you're completely genuine. Connective gratitude relies on offering something significant—physical or not—by extending friendship, help, or simply the recognition that you value someone. "Connective gratitude is so important and a rather elevated way of being in that it requires one to think of what the other person would want," says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. "It comes from a place of making an offering based on what the giver has and likes, but goes a step beyond to really consider how to express gratitude in a manner that will be meaningful to another person."

So if your friend does something wildly helpful for you, like help you move into a new place, you may feel compelled to dedicate real time and effort to treating them to something they love or need. Maybe that's dinner at their favorite restaurant or promising that you'll return the manual-labor favor when they move into their new place next month. Then you follow through, even if they live in a sixth floor walk-up. "Not only does this take awareness of another individual’s preferences, it also requires the effort and desire to do something that may be difficult, unfamiliar, or costly in some way," Dr. Manly says.

4. Finalistic gratitude

With finalistic gratitude, you're essentially repaying the other party with something reflective of the favor itself. So, for example, if you snag a high-salary job, you repay the kindness of the hiring manager by being the best employee ever.

What's left up to you is judging what strain of gratitude is most appropriate to invoke in a given circumstance. Most important, though, is recognizing that gratitude isn't just about manners and autopilot thank yous. It's about recognizing and respecting. And, TBH, tipping your barista—because they surely want that more than an autopilot thank you.

Learn if using a gratitude journal (or failure resume) might work to rebrand your thinking. And here's a good way to enjoy the little things when everyone around you is enjoying big life moments.

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