Leadership

This simple tweet from Elon Musk shows the power of saying 'thank you'  

Elon Musk
Photo courtesy FilmMagic
Elon Musk

Though Elon Musk is a busy man, the billionaire is known to make time to interact with fans and customers on Twitter. One follower even credits a Musk tweet with saving her life.

This spring, jewelry designer Johnna Sabri penned an open letter to the Tesla founder, saying she saw him as an inspiration. When Musk read letter, he tweeted back his gratitude.

"Thank you for the lovely letter," Musk wrote, later adding "appreciate the letter."

Sabri later credited Musk's 'thank you' with pulling her out of a dangerous depression. She wrote, "I want to thank Elon Musk for literally saving my life when he replied to one of my tweets."

While Musk could never have guessed his tweet would have such an effect, it helps to highlight a simple fact: Even the smallest thank you can have a big impact.

In a recent study, researchers found that people "undervalue gratitude," thinking it will seen as insincere or unwelcome. In one experiment, recipients ranked how happy they were to receive a note of gratitude. Most rated their feelings at a 5, among the top possible, with some even saying they felt ecstatic after receiving a formal thank you. Senders, by contrast, guessed rankings of 3, wrongly believing a thank you note was no big deal.

Key to a great thank you is sincerity. According to the findings, most recipients cared less for the actual phrasing than for the general sense of warmth from the exchange, found professors Amit Kumar, from the University of Texas and Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago.

"Elon, you are so kind. Thank you for being an inspiration. And thank you for being kind to me," she responded. "I owe you a lot — my life. Thank you. And I will always believe in the good. It's who I am. Thank you."

According to the researchers, understanding the impact of thank you notes is akin to making wise decisions in general. "When we underestimate gratitude," the researchers write, "We may keep people from engaging in behavior that would maximize their own — and other's — well-being."

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!