Dear All You Readers,
Thank you so much for the comments and the tweets and the emails. Writing can sometimes be a lonely business; the (nearly) instant feedback and discussion y'all bring definitely keeps me going with it. We've had some great conversations -- I can't wait to have some more. Again, thank you.
Back in the day, by which I mean, back when my schedule was not quite so solidly booked with work-type things as it is now, I also used to write a lot of letters.
But even with all that time spent putting pen to paper, I was flustered and uncertain when it came to thank you notes.
Granted, I was a child and my nascent social graces were still developing (and, uh, some folks would argue they still are). But I wrote those painfully awkward notes and resented the uncomfortableness of the task.
In fact, I resented it so much that, for a while there, I abandoned letter writing in any form. It was just another way to feel that I was a failure (I am, sometimes, really irrationally hard on myself).
Of course etiquette mavens will tell me this was unforgiveable -- I will say that you have to take care of you, and keeping up a good front is not always the singular goal of living.
It was still rude, though. And, as I have gotten better (in some ways) over the years, I have tried to return to some of those old-school niceties.
My letter writing still isn't what it used to be (and in some ways, I totally flake about communication), but I've gotten much better and much more confident in my ability to write a thank-you note.
Man, it's kind of ridiculous how much social pressure gets wrapped up into these little notes. No wonder people hate writing them. In the spirit of defusing some of that tension, I'm going to say: Rules suck. Because rules suck. There are some good ideas, but there are no hard and fast rules of writing thank you notes.
In fact, the most common rule of thank you notes is one I think you can break with impunity; if you want to send a thank you note via email, send it via email. It's all well and good for folks to talk about how thank you notes should always be handwritten -- well, if the option is an email or no note whatsoever, I know what I pick.
Sending a thank you note is a lovely, gracious gesture of appreciation. Your gratitude is no less heartfelt if you send it to an email address because you cannot for the life of you remember to buy stamps. (Or go to the post office or whatever. Email is free. Free is our friend.)
Yes, thank you notes are supposed to signal that we took time out to say thank you, that we made an effort. But we live in reality and sometimes reality works against the USPS, okay? And if you get a thank you note via email instead of snail mail and are tempted to turn your nose up at it, please just remember that social customs are a constantly evolving thing.
Regardless of how you are sending it, a thank you note does not have to be long. In fact, short and simple are really key factors in a successful and memorable thank you note. There is even a formula that you can use!
Greetings and Salutations:
I always make sure to include some sort of salutation. I mean, sure, the person reading the note is the obvious recipient. But it's nice, like saying someone's name so you know you have their attention. I default to the old faithful "Dear" when it comes to thank you note greetings because I like a little formality.
Attitude Of Gratitude Or Something:
Open the body of your note by saying thanks -- and include what you are saying thanks for. The general consensus is that you don't ever want to say "Thanks for the twenty dollars" but that's another rule I break. Because "your generousity" is just code for "your greenbacks" and I don't think we should have to be euphemistic about cash. I never get down to specific dollars and cents; I go for "Thank you so much for the cash gift." Then I follow it up with what I'm going to use it for.
Use It Or Lose It:
That's the logical next step, after all. "Thanks for the bunny slippers. They are totally going to keep my feet warm this winter."
Plus, we all know about regifting. If you mentioned a specific use for the gift, the giver is assured that you really are going to use those tiny little shrimp forks or whatever that you asked for on your wedding registry.
I'm not saying you should lie. This is more challenging with some gifts than others. But this is where that whole "It's the thought that counts" thing comes in. And, really, if you can't think of something nice to say here, you can skip this part.
Back To The Future:
The next part varies depending on who I'm writing to. I'm AWFUL at thank you notes to people I see all the time. It's a personal failing and I'm working on it. But for people I don't see all the time? I usually include some mention of, you know, the cool stuff we shall carry on to do together. It affirms the relationship. That's a good thing.
The Once And Future Thanks:
It's a thank you note -- you are allowed to say thank you again. The only time I'd advise against this, actually, is if you're going with the "thanks" closing before your signature. Like, that's just redundant.
Sign it. The end.
There is, it must be said, some discussion about the "I'm just writing" construction. Some people are completely opposed to it. I'm not a fan, because I think it belittles your own efforts. You are writing a big damn thank you note! Like a big damn courteous person! That's not "just" anything.
However, if that's what you want to start with, go for it. I'd rather you write "I'm just writing to say thank you" than not write at all.
And, ideally, you'll get some practice under your dance belt and then find a more natural opening for you. Go with it. Rock it. The most important thing is that you be sincere. I realize some people write thank you notes for form's sake, but I really believe you have to mean it.
So, when do you want to write a thank you note? For many people, the answer is never. But when SHOULD you write a thank you note? In personal situations, I'd say it's going to depend on your circles and the way their interact.
Formal gift-giving occasions almost always call for thank you notes but birthdays might fall under something else for you and your friends. This is where that whole social graces thing gets tested because there are no rules for everyone.
Like, I have some friends who would be legit insulted if I rolled up on them with a formal thank you note because that is not their thing. I say thank you to them in person and with a hug and then I do something nice for them at another date.
In business, you should send a thank you note after an interview. You should send a thank you note after any kind of positive acknowledgment (employee of the month, birthday, bonus, whatevs). When the company springs for a picnic, sending a thank you note to the organizers (and/or the boss signing the checks) might be a really nice gesture.
And if you've got a mentor in a business setting? That person hella deserves a thank you note.
I like saying thank you. It makes other people feel like their efforts were appreciated -- in fact, that's the reason saying thank you exists. That feels nice. Think of it as positive reinforcement if you really need a reason; you're rewarding good behavior by saying thank you.
Rather than cast thank you notes to the sands of time, I think we should bring them up to date and send them via email (though I personally shy away from e-cards). Etiquette doesn't exist to make our lives more difficult -- it's meant to ease interactions. And thank you notes provide a nice little lubricant for communicating.
And, you know, I just want to say thanks.