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An Easy Guide to Writing Meaningful Thank-You Notes

Use this easy process for what to write in a thank you card.
I am in no position, really, to instruct others on the virtues of timely thank-you-note writing. So just do what I say and not what I do, okay?

You see, throughout the past year, I have been spoiled with gifts from family and friends in anticipation of our new baby, and when he arrived, the spoils simply continued. In the midst of preparation for his arrival, and in midst of the chaos once he arrived, I fell terribly behind on getting thank-you notes written and in the mail.

Sure, I’ve texted or called friends and family to thank them; I’ve sent pictures of my newborn in the outfit a friend picked out or reading the book another sent. But I know better than to think these are sufficient gestures; they fall short when it comes to expressing gratitude. If you have the means, a handwritten note of thanks is best.

That’s because it shows you’ve taken the time to pause and honor the thoughtfulness and generosity they’ve demonstrated in picking out and delivering a gift. In the age of instant communication, it’s an old-fashioned way to express your gratitude — and it goes a long way.

Ever since I was a kid, my parents insisted that I write thank-you notes for any gifts I received following my birthday or Christmas. I found the exercise excruciating — and, I’ve found, I’m not the only one who begrudged the task.

For some reason, it has a reputation for being an intimidating and time-consuming task — but a long time ago, I learned a simple way to approach thank-you note writing, and I thought I’d share it with you. It worked when I had to write hundreds of thank-you notes after our wedding, and it has certainly sped up the (otherwise slow, for unrelated reasons) process of writing notes to thank friends and family who’ve sent gifts and words of blessing to our newborn.

First, try to keep thank-you notes, or even blank notecards, on hand. This is always the first obstacle to the process: supplies! Next time you’re at a convenience store, grab a stack, even if you don’t have an occasion to use them right away. Since the holidays are upon us, now is a perfect time to grab a few — and immediately after Christmas, even more are sure to be on sale.

Second, rather than feel burdened to be innovative (especially following a big event like a wedding), know that a great thank-you note includes these basic elements:

  1. The date — which, ideally, should be as close to the date you received the gift as possible. This tells the gift-giver how impactful their gesture really was, and it keeps you from my current situation (a backlog!).
  2. A salutation — something simple: “Dear Aunt Bernice,” or, “Hello, old chum!”
  3. An opening “thank you” that names the reason for the card — it can be as simple as, “Thank you for the _____.”
  4. A compliment to the gift-giver, which can sometimes be rolled into the item above: “You are so generous!”; “How thoughtful of you to send this basket of fruit!”; “I am amazed at your kindness in giving me a Prince album”; “I’m so impressed and honored that you remembered my love of vintage trombones!”
  5. An expression of gratitude about the gift, including something specific: how you plan to use it, that it’s your favorite color, how it fits in perfectly with the other items you have, that it was so delicious you devoured it in mere seconds, that you’ve already received compliments on it, and so on. Say something true about how the gift has or will impact your life.
  6. Another affirmation of your thanks — “Thank you again!” or “Again, I can’t express the depth of my profound gratitude at knowing and being known by you: a generous, thoughtful, and delightful human being, for whom I thank God daily and pray in gratitude for constantly” (or something in between).
  7. Your name — “Sincerely, John”; “xox, EBK”; “Love, Alfalfa.”

Third, write the notes right away! The day-of or next day is best. Even if the note itself is short or underwhelming (we can’t all be Hemingways), the gesture of writing it immediately can make up for any of its faults, because it shows (rather than tells) your thankfulness.

THAT’S IT! Howww easy. Easy enough that there is really no reason to feel intimidated by or to put off the process.

But one final thing: Although it’s wonderful to be in a position to handwrite notes to friends and family, it may not always be feasible. Envelopes, notes, pens, and stamps aren’t free; time is a resource that is scarce for many, as well. Know that a phone call, an email, even a sincere expression of thanks at the time the gift is given are all wonderful gestures through which a person can still communicate his or her gracious gratitude.

The tips above can be modified and used whenever you’re planning to say thanks — for anything! — to a loved one.

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