I was at a store yesterday purchasing something and realized that when a sales clerk gives me my receipt and bag full of goods, I often say “thank you.” But why? Why am I thanking THEM for buying something? They of course say “thank you” back but it got me thinking about giving thanks and specifically those little endangered species items known as thank-you notes.
Are you with me in that they are becoming a lost art and just aren’t used as much as they used to be and as much as they should be? What has happened to a written and mailed (yes, in an envelope with a real stamp) note of thanks to someone? I do still get them every now and then, but it seems like more often than not, I send a birthday, shower, or (gasp) wedding gift and think months later, “did they get it?” I never heard that they did. For all I know they hated the gift!
Truth be told, they more than likely loved the gift (since it was probably on their registration list) but just failed to mail a thank you note. This, my friends, is a major pet peeve of mine. If I’ve taken the time to either personally choose a gift for you or scroll through page after page of gifts you’ve registered for and pick one, you should take the time to thank me. Simple as that, right?
But sadly, in today’s electronic and computerized age, the handwritten thank you note is either considered old-fashioned or too time consuming. Think about it though, the time it takes to write a quick three sentence note, address an envelope, and put a stamp on it takes about the same amount of time that finding someone’s contact info and blasting them an impersonal email or text. Think about this too: who doesn’t love feeling appreciated and finding a sweet note of thanks in their mail along with bills and junk mail? Besides, when was the last time you printed an electronically-sent thank you message? Right, never. But, a sweet note written on fabulous stationery could sit around on your counter or desk for days, even weeks, serving as a gentle reminder that you are appreciated and the note writer is grateful. It’s so much better to be remembered than deleted.
Maybe it’s the actual writing of the notes that keeps people from doing them, which goes hand-in-hand with the demise of cursive writing. But don’t fret! If Jimmy Fallon can do it on his show, you can do it in your home! It’s really not that hard and is simply the right thing to do.
WHERE TO START
So, how do you start? Margaret Shepherd, who wrote “The Art of the Handwritten Note,” says a proper thank-you note should be five things: specific, prompt, succinct, personal, and generous. It helps if you have some nice cards or stationery, but never let a lack of them or lateness in sending prevent you from sending a thank you note. A genuinely written note on spiral notebook paper that arrives months later is better than no note at all.
From there, think about what you want to say so you don’t have to rewrite one and waste paper. Address the note personally and thank the recipient for the gift. Be specific. Proper etiquette dictates you should describe the gift in your note so name it and how you plan to use it or why you love it. Add also maybe a personal note that mentions something specific about your relationship with the recipient. Nothing says “fake” like a “thank you for the gift I love it” thank you note!
WHEN TO SEND
So when should you send a thank you note? First of all, it’s never wrong to send one. In general, you should mail a thank you note any time you receive a gift. Yep, anytime. I personally draw the line with close family members, stressing the close. If siblings and cousins gather for Christmas or if my sisters send me a birthday present (don’t even get me started on birthday cards and presents though!), I generally opt out of sending them thank you notes. If, however, a distant aunt or even grandparent sends our daughter a gift, she absolutely should mail them a thank you note.
According to Southernliving.com, you never really need a reason to send a thank you note, but these are three reasons you should always send one:
Someone had done you a favor. This could be a kind gesture like driving you to the airport or a doctor’s appointment, picking your child up from school, or letting you use your washer and dryer in absence of their broken ones. In my opinion, these notes don’t necessarily have to be mailed, as I’ve appreciated a personally delivered bottle of wine or vase of flowers. Whatever you choose, choose to show you are grateful.
You’ve received a gift. Yes, this includes shower and wedding gifts of course, but it also includes a casserole after surgery or something they bring you from a vacation. Gifts come in all shapes and forms and all should be acknowledged.
Other rules of thumb include mandatory thank you notes for shower and wedding gifts. Notes of appreciation for both baby and wedding shower gifts should be mailed within three weeks of the shower and mailed to everyone who sent a gift, even those not in attendance and those you personally thanked in person at the shower.
Every wedding gift should be acknowledged within three months of the wedding. Early wedding gifts should be acknowledged upon receipt and before the wedding day itself.
It’s a good idea to keep a record of all the gifts you receive for both showers and weddings. Record what the gift was, who gave you the gift, and the date you mail the thank you note. If someone gives you both a wedding shower and wedding gift, you must acknowledge them in individual thank you notes.
TEACH THEM YOUNG
When it comes to kids, it’s important to start them young. Remind them that someone took the time to send them a gift so now they need to take the time to say thanks. Doing so not only helps teach them the gift of gratitude and serves as a way of practicing writing and penmanship, but research shows that children who learn to express gratitude have less envy, materialism, and depression. Doing so also results in better grades and improved relationships.
It’s obvious I’m a stickler for thank you notes. I love stationery, I love writing utensils, I love to write, and I’m a very grateful person on the whole. Since our daughter (now 25-years-old) was old enough to know she received a gift from someone, I had her sit down and write thank you notes to the best of her ability. To this day I often ask her if she sent a thank you note to someone, whether it be for a gift or for the use of their vacation house. Send the note. Say you’re thankful.
The most important things are to make it a habit and make it fun! Bring out fun paper, stickers, markers, and colored pens. Sit down with them and let them go to work, keeping in mind their age and writing abilities. Etiquette guru Emily Post says three-to-five year olds can scribble and maybe draw a picture of the gift, six-to-10 year olds can start doing some actual writing, while older kids and teens are able to take more responsibility and an “owner’s flare.” In all cases, focus on how nice the gift was and why they are doing the note in the first place. If there are many gifts to acknowledge, like say for a birthday party or First Holy Communion, perhaps make a template of words and have the child fill in the blanks.
Sadly a recent survey of 6,000 moms found that only 30 percent have their children acknowledge a gift with a thank-you note. The demise of this tradition is disturbing, as it shows not only a lack of gratitude but a missed opportunity to also show good manners and simple etiquette. Even the busiest of parents should make it a priority to start the habit of repaying kindness with kindness a priority.
If writing a thank-you note is just too much for a child, using a computer software to create an electronic card is okay, just be sure the child does it and that it’s personal. Your goal with all notes of thanks is to acknowledge the gift and to say thanks.
Finally, be sure to practice what you preach. When you sit down to write a thank-you note, make a big deal of it in front of your kids. Talk about how much you appreciate the gift or gesture and that you’re telling the recipient how happy their thoughtfulness made you.
GRATEFULNESS BEGETS HAPPINESS
Even if you’re not in the school of “it’s the right thing to do” group, there are many other great reasons to send a thank you note. My favorite of which is that being grateful actually increases your happiness and improves your mood. Professor Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis concluded this in a 2008 study and summarized it by saying “gratitude is the forgotten factor in happiness research.” So by writing a thank you note to someone you make them happy and you can increase your own happiness. It’s a win-win!
Gratitude is indeed good for the brain according to Dr. Christian Jarrett of the “Science of Us,” whose brain-scanning study results suggest gratitude tasks have a self-perpetuating nature in that the more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and have a feeling of well-being and reduced depression. Imagine how happy newlyweds must feel writing all those thank you notes!
Plus, when you feel good you often do good, which would explain why physical health increases when psychological health increases. Wellnessmama.com sites a 2013 study on the connection between gratitude and physical health that showed those who express gratitude are less likely to experience aches and pains and feel healthier overall. Grateful people tend to take part in healthier activities proving when you’re happier in life you make happier choices.
Handwritten notes are important to any civilized culture and have been the preferred method of communication for centuries. The traditional way of communicating is still one of the best ways to build and foster relationships, especially when coupled with the expression of gratitude.
Lastly, but for many of you perhaps most importantly, sending a handwritten note may help you stand out among the masses. Distinguishing yourself amidst hundreds of applicants and interviewees may just be the winning ticket, even in today’s digital world. In fact, some employers still consider the practice essential and have even been known to hire a person because of receiving a thank-you card. A mailed note can also serve as an indirect way to reach back out to a potential boss and to even reconnect with them long after meeting them. They simply demonstrate good manners, and who doesn’t like and appreciate good manners?
The pros of sending a thank-you note far outweigh the cons and everyone, whether it’s a CEO or grandma, appreciates getting thanks in writing. In the end, the goal is to express gratitude and to send a little bit of joy someone’s way. Doesn’t everyone like to feel appreciated? Don’t you? Write on!