When we were children, most of us were inundated with reminders of how important it is to say “please” and “thank you” when interacting with others. Though saying these things has become second nature for most of us, there’s a distinct difference between expressing thanks verbally, and doing so on paper.
Written notes are important for several reasons, and the first one is sincerity. As mentioned earlier, saying “thank you” is pretty much an ingrained response for most of us, and it’s probably one of the more common expressions we use on a daily basis. On our way to work, we might thank the person who holds a door open for us, the bus driver who offers us a transfer, the barista who gives us our morning coffee, the receptionist who tells us we have a call on hold, etc. The instant, reactionary “thank you” is second nature, but there’s rarely much thought put into it, and we rarely remember who thanked us for what, and who we may have thanked in turn.
It takes very little effort to thank someone verbally, but everyone knows that it takes time to sit down and put thoughts down on paper. You have to set aside a few minutes of your terribly busy schedule to reach out to someone and let them know that you appreciate something they’ve done (or said, or given you), and in our hectic lives, that’s a rare and treasured gesture. Additionally, unlike a verbal expression of thanks, a note or card can be read over and over again for years, and can be a valued reminder for someone that their actions have made a difference to a person. It’s also important to write these thanks in your own handwriting, as printed materials all look the same and are utterly impersonal.
As mentioned with the “sincerity” comment in the previous section, even if you’re writing a thank-you note because you to, it’s important to put a bit of honest gratitude into the note. There has to have been something about the situation/item/etc. that you’re thanking the person for that you’re truly thankful for. Even if you hate the end result, think of some aspect that you feel you can thank them for honestly.
In the case of the hideous sweater, you could say that you appreciate the effort that it must have taken to create it for you, or perhaps the colours used in it go quite well with your hair.
“Dear Aunt Helga,
I wanted to write to you to thank you for the sweater you gave me for Festivus. The colours you chose are really lovely, and I really appreciate how much time and care you put into making it for me by hand. Looking forward to seeing you at the family BBQ next year.
Note that you didn’t actually say that you liked the piece, or that you’ll ever wear it, or that you won’t use it to start a bonfire in the near future, but you did acknowledge that she cares about you enough to spend 300 hours knitting you something; we only have so much time here on Earth, so the fact that she made something for you is pretty damned special.
Let’s say that you’d like to thank someone for interviewing you for a job you’ve applied for. It’s good to have some thank-you cards at home for just such an occasion, so before you pop over to that interview, pre-address the envelope with the person’s office address and stamp it too; you can fill out the card at a cafe after the interview and then pop it into the nearest post box. It’ll be delivered the next day, and they’ll be impressed that you put time and effort into thanking them properly. (Hint: that might actually put you in their good books, even if you’ve botched part of the interview.)
“Dear Mr./Ms. ____
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me this morning. I enjoyed our interview, and it was great to learn more about your company. You made me feel at ease during our discussion, and if you feel that I’m a good fit for Pete’s Pork Rind Emporium, I look forward to the opportunity to work with you.
Keep it simple, succinct, and neutral; this is not an opportunity for you to suck up and beg for either the job itself, or at least a second interview. You’re expressing appreciation, and if they think you’re a good match, they’ll call you. Trust me on this: I’ve received enough douchey thank-you notes that were so full of sycophantic fawning that I can tell you with complete sincerity that they will not get you the job. Be gracious, and keep your dignity intact.
There is really only one excuse for not writing a thank-you note by hand, and that is if your handwriting is truly shameful. Whether it’s illegible or looks like a 3-year-old’s crayon scrawlings, horrific handwriting is indeed grounds for printing a note or card instead of writing it out. In a scenario like this, it’s best to actually mention in the note that you’ve typed it out because your penmanship is so bad, and sign your name with pen at the bottom of the letter. (You can manage that, correct?) Really, there is no excuse for poor handwriting, but in an era when most communication is typed and children are rarely taught penmanship in schools, it’s understandable that you might be out of practice. This very lack of written communication illustrates even more perfectly why a written note is a rare and treasured thing nowadays.
Just as revisiting written love letters brings back fond memories for the recipient, re-reading thank you cards rekindles a sense of appreciation and warmth. You don’t need a special occasion to write an appreciative note to someone either; a quick letter to your partner or spouse thanking them for making you breakfast is sure to inspire a smile, and leaving a card for your favourite waitress or barista to thank them for being awesome might totally brighten their day. Know that a small gesture such as this can indeed have far-reaching repercussions, especially since those who receive thank-you notes often turn around and send them to others in turn, and your actions could have far greater impact than you can imagine.
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