Reviving the Art of Writing Thank You Notes Posted on 12 Nov 16:16


I’m grateful that thorns have roses. More often than not, I think the glass is half full. And I am conscious of my treasures. Thornton Wilder believed, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” It’s not enough to just be conscious in my mind. I feel most alive when I verbalize my gratitude.

Anyone close to me will acknowledge I’m a bit obsessive about thank you notes. I write rough drafts—I compose them. While I don’t send them to an editor, I’ll admit I’ve thought about it. Sometimes I get mocked for being so resolute about the thank you note, but I don’t think I’m off on this one. Be honest, a handwritten message can make you feel grand for a few lovely moments. It’s time to revive the art of writing a meaningful thank you note. Here are some insights into writing memorable messages:

Be Demonstrative
Technology has made hand written messages nearly extinct.It’s so much easier to text or email. But a thank you note in and of itself is demonstrative. Show that you care by taking time to write neatly in your own hand, on real stationary, with a stamp and postmarks. Those hallmarks represent time, effort, care and concern. There’s a reason we still send Santa’s letters on decorated paper with colorful ink and drop it in the box labeled North Pole—it endears the gracious, jolly old man. We can show our gratitude by making that little extra definitive effort. Of course the bonus is that your recipient has tangible, physical evidence of your gratitude.
Consider Time
Some say you should send a thank you note within two weeks of being on the receiving end of things. A trusted friend of mine believes you should wait a week to thank so the recipient knows that you have been touched to the point of still thinking of their kindness a week after the fact. Timeliness is certainly something to consider. But, remember this truth: it is rarely too late to say thank you. Better to say it late than not at all.
Make it Personal
Your note should feel particularly personal if you want to adequately convey gratitude. If you are close to the recipient, that closeness should be reflected in your word choice and tone. Maybe you don’t know the person well that you’re writing to—be warm still the same. Gratitude equates with warmth. Recently, I wrote a thank you note to a potential employer I had interviewed with. It was rather brief because I didn’t know the man well. Still, I thanked him for the interview. I also told him I appreciated his views on education; they were instructive for an educator like me. The closure line said something along the lines of I hope success continues to follow you wherever you go. His response was kind. That’s the thing about gratitude, it sparks and spreads like wildfire.
Address the Past, Present, & Future
Multiple folks suggest that an effective thank you note will address the past, the present, and the future. (The trifecta worked for Ebenezer Scrooge, so it seems like a good idea to me.) You can thank the person for what they have done (or given). You can address how their gift is impacting you currently. And you can speculate how it will help in the future. If you think about it, including the past, present and future puts their gift into perspective. Sometimes gifts are bigger than we give them credit for.
Be Genuine
By far, the best thank you notes are the ones that capture authenticity. Be genuine in your gratitude. I love the story of C.S. Lewis who received myriad gifts in the post-war years when Great Britain was suffering economically. Many of his American admirers sent him sundries that were virtually unobtainable in England. Oftentimes, it was the same benefactors who repeatedly sent him goods. Lewis found unique ways to say thank you each time. Here are a few samples from the sage: “I am completely at a loss when it comes to thanking you for your last parcel.” Or “The arrival of that magnificent ham leaves me not knowing what to say”—I think that was the letter Lewis signed “Ham-icably yours.”