Turn obligation to opportunity
I’m not going to tell you WHEN to write a thank-you note. You can find that information anywhere. Today I want you to think about WHY you might write a thank you note. As Simon Sinek reminds us in his wildly popular TED talk, the most significant things in our life should start with understanding WHY.
I confess that I have sometimes looked at my “Gifts Received” list after Christmas with some trepidation. I’ve learned, though, to reframe the sense of obligation and turn it into one of joyful gratitude and opportunity. Instead of “I HAVE to write these notes,” I tell myself, “I GET to write these notes.” After all, someone thought of me and spent money to purchase or make a gift they hoped I would enjoy. They deserve to be thanked…and in a heartspoken way!
Through that lens of gratitude, I want to share 5 great reasons to write those thank-you notes, whether you’re writing to thank someone for a gift, a favor, a kindness, or a courageous action they have taken. I hope at least one of these will inspire you to grab a pen and paper and send a tangible expression of your thanks in the form of a handwritten note. I’ll start with the most predictable.
My top 5 reasons to write a thank-you note
1. Because it’s the right thing to do
Writing a personal thank-you note is both time-honored and time-tested. Etiquette—or good manners—may not be the sexiest reason to write a thank-you note, but it is sufficiently baked into our culture that it lands at the top of my list, right along with all the social behaviors that fall under “The Golden Rule” category.
Good begets good. Gratitude begets gratitude. It’s a virtuous cycle.Good begets good. Gratitude begets gratitude. It's a virtuous cycle. Click To Tweet
2. Because you’ll encourage the giver’s generosity again in the future
I’ll speak for myself here, but I am much more likely to go out of my way to give a gift of time or treasure to someone who has been, in the past, grateful for my help, support, or generosity. My friend, Kathryn, for instance, writes such lovely notes after being at our house for dinner that she and her husband are always top of mind when we’re thinking of someone to invite. When I hear of a young relative down on their luck, their past expression of authentic gratitude often triggers more generosity in me than I would feel otherwise. Every professional fundraiser knows this.
There is a related ripple effect here. If I am thanked warmly for gifts given or kindness shown, I will not only be more likely to do it again for that person, but I’m more likely to reach out to another person in a similar way. Appreciated generosity is contagious, so write that thank-you note.Appreciated generosity is contagious, so write that thank-you note.Click To Tweet
A side note to parents of small children: your tactful thank-you note to the children’s grandparents, for instance, can also be a helpful way to guide them on what the children like for future gift-giving occasions.
“The boys can’t stop playing with the wooden train set you sent. They love anything that moves, especially trains, boats, and cars.”
“Sally loves serving us tea in the tea set you sent. For a few months, at least, she will be in a “little cook” stage and seems to love anything to do with food and cooking.”
3. Because your note is itself a gift of thoughtfulness
One of the most practical reasons for writing a thank-you note is to assure the giver that it was, indeed, received and it was what the giver intended. This is not only thoughtful but sometimes it’s the chance to clear up a mistake.
I’ll never forget writing my mother to thank her for a lovely seashell centerpiece (which seemed an odd gift for her to send since neither of us is particularly a “beach person”) and receiving her call. “That’s not what I ordered at all!” she exclaimed. “I ordered you a vegetable bowl to match your plates.” Now the exchange was fixed and we both had what we wanted.
The vagaries of postal service between the U.S. and Great Britain make me extremely appreciative when my son lets me know they have received gifts I’ve mailed. Packages are so easily stuck in customs or mistakenly delivered to a neighbor.
Since the practice of sending handwritten notes is so rare today, your note will not only be noticed but will also be a lovely means of connection.
4. Because without your note, they may have no idea how much their gift or action meant to you
This is your chance to go beyond the obligatory words and convey the true significance of a gift to you. The secret to doing this is to be as specific as possible. Compare these two notes below. The first is all most people expect. The second will impart so much more:
“Thank you so much for the lovely blue dishes. We will enjoy using them.”
“We were thrilled to open your box and find these beautiful blue dishes. The color and style remind me so much of your kitchen and all the fabulous meals we’ve enjoyed there. They will go perfectly in our new home, and I’ll think of you every time we use them. I can’t wait to have our first party! It will feel as though you’re right there with me.”
Paint a “minds-eye” picture for your gift giver so they can imagine you using their gift and derive pleasure from knowing you are truly going to enjoy it.Paint a 'minds-eye' picture for your gift giver so they can imagine you using their gift and derive pleasure from knowing you are truly going to enjoy it. Click To Tweet
5. Because expressing your gratitude is good for your heart, soul, and body
Dr. Erin Leyba in Psychology Today, reported on the findings of several researchers: those who are in the habit of expressing thanks tend to be happier, more positive, and more confident, even after controlling for personality traits such as agreeableness and extraversion. Those who practice gratitude find it easier to cultivate meaningful friendships and relationships.
Studies from leading research centers consistently confirm that an “attitude of gratitude” is beneficial on many levels: emotional, social, physical, career, and personality.Others perceive us in a more favorable light when we have shown or expressed gratitude verbally or in writing.Click To Tweet
Thank-you notes are best written when they’re fresh on your mind, and you’re so much more likely to do it then if you have supplies close at hand: stationery, pens, and stamps. Below are some of my favorites. The Pentel Energel pens (refillable) write like fountain pens and come in wonderful colors. Click any of these Amazon affiliate links and stock up!
I always ask my postmistress to show me any new stamps that come out and I try to choose one that enhances the visual appeal of my note. These new forever stamps are coming out on July 17, 2020:
A thank-you note is such a small token of appreciation for a gift or act of kindness or generosity. They’ll love getting something besides bills in their mailbox. Every handwritten letter or note I receive is like getting a hug by mail.Every handwritten letter or note I receive is like getting a hug by mail.Click To Tweet