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Go ahead, say 'Thank you'

"Thank you" is the best prayer. If you're not a praying person, don't worry. Just say "thank you" randomly — no religious affiliation needed.

Perhaps you authentically offer those simple words when someone unexpectedly holds the door open as you enter a building. A small boy, who could not have been more than 7 years old, held open a heavy door for me recently. My genuine gratitude prompted a wide smile from him — and from his proud mom standing nearby. I still feel good about that exchange days later.

Maybe you say "thank you" when a friend compliments you on your new haircut or notes that you have cleaned your office. Or maybe you use those words when you are off on a much-needed vacation and you find the airline has upgraded you to first-class seats — and there is an exclamation point on those two words when you're served the delicious, warm, mixed nuts that apparently go with airline upgrades. (And there you have my week.)

Perhaps you exude an anonymous air-sent "thank you" when your computer does not crash after you get a virus warning, or the toast does not burn even though the setting encouraged exactly that. If you actually do have a computer virus or the toast burns to a crisp, there may be other words you use but, for now, let's stay with a positive outcome and a more gracious approach.

By the way, if you're the recipient of a simple "thank you," there is no need to discount the affirmation. "You are very welcome" will suffice.

Today I am thinking about gratitude. My husband tells me I recently wrote a column on a similar topic and seem a little obsessed about it. I simply respond with, "Thank you for calling that to my attention, dear." (There are worse obsessions).

I looked up some research about the power of a simple thank you. It was scant. I did find a website that pondered the topic, as I am doing here using Zen-like references. It suggested regularly thinking about who and what we are grateful for will make us generally more positive about life. I should note there's quite-credible research to suggest that positive and optimistic expectations lead to better health. A recent Duke University Medical Center study involving more than 2,000 patients found that the optimistic folks were 30 percent less likely to die over the 15 years following cardiac surgery. Now that's definitely something to be thankful about.

Another way to look at gratitude involves the "count your blessings theory." For instance, are you having problems at work? Be grateful you have work. Or be grateful for challenges and problems, because at least then life is not boring. I'm getting a little circular here, I know. Thank you for not calling it to my attention too harshly.

Here is my final illustration on the power of saying thank you. It comes from a Microsoft business website (the kind of site that advises businesses about how to get an edge in the marketplace). Their recommendation states, "Extending old-time courtesies helps you stand out." These business advisors cite a survey that found nearly five of every 10 people pass up on the opportunity to say thank you. For those who remembered to do it, there was "a sales point of difference." I am not exactly sure what "a sales point of difference" is, but in this economy, it's got to be a good thing.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.