Thank-you Notes

Cheryl Branche, Graduate Student, School of Library and Information Studies

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Dear Auntie Cheryl,

Thank you for the hand-knit jumbo Christmas stockings you sent to us for our Christmas gifts. They are lovely. We are looking forward to propping them on the floor and letting Santa fill them with toys and fruit. They will be so heavy that they cannot be hung by a nail over the fireplace! We just love them. Thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you soon.

Love, Charles, III and Michael.

This is the letter that I would have loved to receive from my nephews who were 12 and 11 years old, respectively. Instead, I received no phone call and no thank-you note. When I asked their father what happened, he replied that you don’t give a gift to expect a thank-you note. I was shocked, hurt, and angry. I could not believe that we had been raised by the same parents, who would certainly have disagreed with this comment.

Whatever happened to thank-you notes? When did they go out of style? Is it the cost of paper and stamp? Though I make and send several gifts per year, I hardly ever get a note of thanks or even a call saying that the gift was received. Despite not being the recipient of thank-you notes, I write them regularly—at least one or two per month. Not all are on stationery. Some are e-mail thank-you notes, though they hardly substitute for the ones handwritten on lovely stationery.

Of course I appreciate an acknowledgement through forms of technology like telephone and e-mail, but there is nothing like receiving a letter in the mail…the snail mail. Remember wanting to get mail as a child…just like the grown-ups? Or am I dating myself?

There is something about touching the mail, opening the envelope with anticipation–something like the college acceptance letter, but with a lot less drama–pulling out the letter, unfolding it and seeing the first few words, the “Dear…” at the top of the page, smelling the scent of the paper, reading the letter, however long or short it is, and reaching the end to find, the closing and the signature of the writer in his or her unique handwriting. The whole experience goes remembered no matter who the sender is. The offering of a thank-you note says to the reader that you care enough to take the time to hand write a response to the unspoken questions: Did you get my gift? Or how do you like my gift? Or when can we meet again? The experience is a powerful one and a very unexpected one no matter how many thank-you notes you get.

Was I a member of the last generation to write thank-you notes for gifts and favors? What could I do to promote this time-honored tradition of gentility and home training? If I could reach out to young people and teach them more about this genteel expression of gratitude I might feel better.

There are five short steps to writing a thank-you note for a gift in a non-business setting:

1. Dear Kettly, Open the note with an address to the name of the person who gave you the gift.

2. Thank you for the lovely earrings. This line is where you show appreciation for the gift received.

3. They go perfectly with my blue suit. I will always think of you when I wear them. Describe how you will use the gift. If the gift is money, describe what you bought with or plan to use the money for. If it is an item, describe how you will use it in the home, with the wardrobe, in leisure, etc.

4. Let us get together again sometime soon. Complete the note by acknowledging your continuing relationship.

5. Warmly, Sign the note. “Warmly” is a little archaic, but I like to use it. Maybe “affectionately” is a better term.

See, it is very simple. The fact is that we live in a civilized society and as such, civilized responses of appreciation and thanks are expected and respected when a gift is received. People like to receive thank-you notes as much as they like receiving gifts.

Whether you know it or not, writing a thank-you note leaves an indelible impression on the reader. It says that you care, as opposed to the other impression if you do not send a card, which says that you cannot find time to say thank you. Gift giving and thank-you note writing are part of reciprocal exchange. That is, if I take time to select and purchase a gift or make a gift for you or invite you to an event or do something for you, I have good reason to expect a response in the form of a thank-you note. Thank-you notes are tools that grease the wheels of relationships, be they professional or intimate. And who does not enjoy receiving a note from a friend or a lover? Who does not appreciate a note thanking one for a letter of reference or an update of one’s progress on a project?

You may ask, “Why does this writer drone on and on about thank-you notes?” Only within the last twenty-some odd years have I been writing thank-you notes, though I should have started earlier. Writing them has changed my life. I make friends more easily. I am perceived as a nice, considerate and a grateful person, which carries over well…since I am a nice, considerate, and a grateful person. I am putting my graciousness into the universe, which gives me many happy returns.

Over these last twenty years, I have learned that as an individual I can do very little compared to what I can do as part of a supportive, collegial, knowledgeable team. Writing notes to my team members is the nicest way that I can say thank you. It is my way of thanking the village who raised me and who continues to support me in my work and studies. There is not one member of society, I believe, who would not welcome a note of thanks for the smallest effort. It is up to me to write that note. I may never know how that note may change the reader’s life for the better. My father used to say that another person will never know if you are thinking of her if you do not write or call. I think he is right.

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