From the time I was old enough to hold a pencil, every six months my mom enforced a rule that some people think is archaic: sitting down to hand-write notes to people who had sent me gifts for my birthday or Christmas. The notes were usually on cute stationery that came with tiny envelopes and smelled really good in that paper-y, book-smell way, so the process wasn’t overly taxing, but to a six-year-old who would rather be reading or telling stories to her stuffed animals, it wasn’t exactly a dream way to spend an hour.
I have to admit, I haven’t stayed on top of the thank-you note thing as I’ve moved into adulthood. I still write them… just sometimes the Christmas thank you notes go out in February. I am grateful. I am. It’s just that I get busy.
And that’s just it, isn’t it? Maybe I know I’m grateful for my gifts, and my job interviews, and the places I stay when I travel, but do the people who give me those things know that? I can say “thank you” verbally to someone who’s in the room with me or on the phone, but using good-smelling stationery and a fancy pen to send a letter takes time and effort that lets someone generous know you care.
This kind of gesture is particularly important for people who are older–grandparents, aunts, uncles–because many of them still expect thank-you notes to arrive. It’s still a good idea to write thank you notes to people who didn’t watch Happy Days every week as it came out, though, since the fact that they’re not expecting it will make your gesture that much more adorable. Here’s the anatomy of a good thank-you note. It doesn’t have to win an award–it just has to be nice.
What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of gratitude-related missives as writing an individualized, kind and visually pleasing note that lets its recipient know you care.
1. Stock up. You can get thank-you notes just about everywhere–Walmart, Target, bookstores, even some high-class gas stations. Get one card for everyone you’re thanking, and make sure you’ve got envelopes. Pens are a good idea, too, unless you’ve mastered the art of telekinetic handwriting projection, in which case, good job!
2. Be specific. Don’t be the kid who wrote a stilted form letter to all their relatives after Christmas: “Dear Grandma, Thank you for the gift. Love, [name]”. Name the gift and talk about why you liked it. If you received cash, write about what you treated yourself to with it. If a gift arrived broken, defective, or not to your taste, don’t mention it–just return it quietly and channel your joy from the store credit you’ll receive into a genuine thank-you note. If you can’t return it, just say something neutral and complimentary-sounding: “Every time I look at it, I’ll think of you”. Super sweet, super-not-indicative of the leg lamp from A Christmas Story maybe not being your thing.
This part can be easier to write for notes about favors people did with you or interactions you had. Handwritten notes for people who kept you in their homes while you were traveling or people who interviewed you for jobs are unexpected and kind (and, from an employment standpoint, can give you a real boost).
3. Make nice. Thank-you notes aren’t just about settling a debt–one nice favor for one handwritten note. They’re about making a personal connection, sometimes with folks you rarely see. Ask how the recipient is doing, as specifically as possible! “I heard you got a new kitten–how is Mr. Whiskers doing?” “Congratulations to little Karen on getting onto her school’s softball team!” “Great seeing you at Great-Aunt Sally’s Christmas dinner–I hope you had a happy new year!” Thank-you notes for job interviews don’t have to be that personal, but do include something about hoping your maybe-future employer is doing well, and how nice it was to meet them.
4. Deliver! I sure hope you waited to go shopping for thank-you note supplies until after you finished this article, because there was one crucial item that I didn’t mention earlier: stamps. They’re the main difference between email and snail mail, and in the digital age, they can be easy to forget. Get Forever stamps so you don’t have to worry about whether you’re including the correct postage. If you’ve forgotten how to address an envelope in the U.S., no worries; there’s a tutorial here. Don’t worry about getting your notes out late, either. Even though it’s better to be prompt with thank you notes, there’s no deadline on appreciation!