There are two words in the English language often used automatically, without dedicated meaning. And sometimes, even more sadly, not used at all. "Thank you!"

There are two words in the English language often used automatically, without dedicated meaning. And sometimes, even more sadly, not used at all. "Thank you!"

Maybe you could say that aloud — right now. Spill those two words out into the atmosphere and let them roll around. Give thanks for anything you choose. Practice being grateful; this may be the most important thing you choose to do all day.

"Thank you for the beautiful quilt you made for my grandson and left on our porch." "Thank you for calling and giving me feedback on my column about memory. I'm sorry I did not call you back — I accidently erased your number."

Acknowledging people with authentic gratitude may be the key to the universe.

In this column, I am borrowing unabashedly from the writer Leslie Harpold, a pioneer in Web design and writing, who died in 2006. Were she alive today she might ask, "Who have you thanked lately?" And she would give no leeway: "Thank you notes should be handwritten and in an envelope with a stamp."

For those who never do that, I sense a deep groan. If it is an email you must use, some suggestions follow to maximize impact. By the way, "There's a hidden secret in thank-you notes: They improve the frequency and quality of the gifts you receive. People like feeling appreciated, and if they believe you actually notice the nice things they do for you, they're more likely to give an encore performance."

According to Harpold, there's a six-point formula to the proper thank-you. She promises, "Learn it, know it, memorize it — and your life will be better." And who does not want their life to be better.

1. Greet the giver.

Dear Grandma Sharon. Lots of people forget that — but people relish hearing their own names.

2. Express your gratitude in a heartfelt way "Thank you so much for the slippers. Ever since I got the slippers I have only taken them off to shower. I'd wear them to the school if I thought I could get away with it."

My all-time favorite thank you note came to me in the mail long ago from a nephew who said, "I have always wanted to read that book and now I am." Is it not amazing what one remembers? Today I could not pick him out in a crowd, but I remember his 11-year-old words.

3. Discuss use. Say something nice about the item and how you will use it.

"It gets very chilly here in the winter, so those slippers will keep me from getting toe-pneumonia"

You don't like the slippers? Do not lie. Find the one thing about them that's nice and mention it — but don't get carried away. Something like, "They are such a lovely shade of chartreuse" might work.

4. Mention the past, allude to the future.

"It was great to spend time with you recently and I look forward to next summer's visit."

If you don't look forward to it, you might just say, "You are always in my thoughts." Although, the word "always" may be over the top.

5. Grace.

"Thanks again for your gift." Err on the side of repetitive gratitude.

6. Regards.

"Love," Simply wrap it up. Use whatever works for you.

This column is prompted by many things including receipt of a box of gorgeous, hand-made thank-you notes from someone who appreciated a presentation I made. Maybe I'm writing this as delayed gratitude for setting such classy precedent. Letting her know I'm trying to follow her lead "¦ one thank you at a time.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or