Have You Written Your Thank You Notes?

This is the question I ask my children by the second week of January every year.  I prod them to complete the most important part of receiving gifts. For many years, this meant collecting hand-made cards with one-line acknowledgments from them and then sorting these into envelopes that will accommodate odd shapes to mail to grandparents and cousins.

Last year I allowed them to use  their own email accounts to send an appropriate alternative. We gave up the personal touch of glue and glitter on construction paper for ease of follow-through as they move into those busy teen years.  I, on the other hand, thank my husband for his gift that brings me back to using the old-fashioned method with real stationary and a real pen.

my new personalized note cards

I converted to writing notes, especially notes of appreciation, when I received an unexpected anonymous one more than 15 years ago. The writer attended my church and expressed her appreciation for my smile, my example and the love reflected in my marriage.

Ironically, at the time, I felt grumpy and self-absorbed, still adjusting to early married life. Her note, which I still have today, positioned me in front of a newly polished mirror to see what others saw. While I could not thank the writer for what she had done, I could do the same for others.

Since then I’ve written and received hundreds of notes and learned several points about expressing appreciation in writing.  Those that touch my heart and earn a place for keeps in my personal file have three things in common.

The Most Significant Notes . . .

Arrive in the expected moments and the unexpected ones.

It’s important to acknowledge most gifts with more than a verbal thank you and do so in a timely manner. I still haven’t received thank you notes for wedding gifts I gave last summer. While etiquette says newlyweds have a year, I’m wondering if the gifts have become the expectation rather than gratitude for them.

Even more importantly, like the anonymous note I received, written words of appreciation mean so much whenever they’re offered but not expected. I especially love to remember someone for his or her seemingly invisible gifts of kindness and character.

Mention something specific.

We might say, “I like the gift you gave me,” but even better is to write, “The candle is sitting in my living room and I can smell cinnamon vanilla and not the stale indoor air every time I walk by.”

We might say, “Thank you for directing the play,” but even better is to write something that can be kept. “You contributed so much time to making the program run smoothly. I could leave in it your hands and feel confident it would get done.”

Express genuine thoughts and feelings.

Flattery fills us with air that will inevitably need refilling.  To be genuine is to be sincere and authentic, not dishonest or counterfeit. Genuine praise, gratitude and appreciation motivate and inspire a recipient to continue the cycle.  


  1. Donnetta
    Jan 12, 2009

    This is an area I could use improvement in. Thanks for the reminder to get some notes going!

  2. An Ordinary Mom
    Jan 12, 2009

    I love this post! I have always been a fan of writing notes … notes of the thank you type, the birthday type and the just because type. It does wonders also for the person writing the note, as well as the person receiving it.

    Such wonderful words of wisdom!

  3. Robin
    Jan 13, 2009

    What a lovely post. Thank you notes (even basic ones) are pretty much a dead art here in Israel. No one ever writes them, even for things like weddings. It’s a lot easier, but it does sometimes feel like something is missing.

  4. Daphne
    Jan 19, 2009

    Hi TJ,

    I found your blog though Oktober5. Love this post, because I love receiving and sending handwritten letters and cards, though it’s a dying practice. Your tips are very useful – send even when unexpected, and be specific what you’re thanking someone for. Thank you the reminder to “mention something specific”.

  5. Carrie
    Jan 21, 2009

    Thanks TJ! This was a great read and gave a lot of good pointers for me as I sit down to write my thank you notes for my wedding. I think this is such a good habit to start and hope I will continue it as I start this new life stage.

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