We are in that sweet spot between Thanksgiving and Christmas, where it seems that everything around us takes a soft curve—or a sharp right turn—from a spirit of gratitude to over-consumption. I don’t know about your family, but at my house, there are only a few hours between being thankful for what we have on Thursday and shopping the best deals on Friday. It’s hard to know how to navigate these waters, but the best way to claim the joy of the entire season is to keep the giving of thanks alive.
During this season especially, your kids will probably receive loads of gifts (and acts of service) from grandparents, relatives and friends. But the dangerous side effects of receiving such generosity are the pesky symptoms of expectation. You might even hear your children grumble and complain about how they didn’t get exactly what they wanted, and you’ll wonder who are these entitled little monsters you’ve created. But even if they are so overcome with elation that they leap to hug Grandma of their own free will, there’s an even more meaningful—but often neglected—way to express gratitude: the Thank-you note.
Thank-you notes are a lost art. We live in the days of oversimplified communication, acronyms and abbreviations for everything, and emojis for everything else. A handwritten letter is a novelty equal to a hand-painted carousel horse: so very nostalgic and hard to come by. But that’s what makes them even more meaningful.
A written note is proof on the page. The root of happiness is gratitude, but the tricky thing about thankfulness is that it only exists in the act; nobody knows you’re thankful unless you say so. When you write it down, everybody knows how you feel.
They show intent. A handwritten note says you unplugged from technology, set aside time, and returned to the most basic tools of written communication: pen and paper. There’s something beautifully intentional in a written note.
They’re fun to receive. Think about it: in a giant pile of window envelopes with bills and junk, your name on a colorful envelope catches your eye. How fun it is to receive a pocketful of sunshine in your very own mailbox. It’s so easy to give that gift to someone else.
Handwriting is an extension of a person. Have you ever happened onto a letter written long ago? The handwriting nearly breathes on the page. It’s a time capsule of the writer’s handwriting, message, voice, and even a good measure of their spirit. Even if it’s scrawled and messy, your handwriting is part of who you are. You can use it to carry your voice into the world.
And so I’m on a mission to revive the art of the thank-you note, in my own home, starting at my dining room table. Here are the tips and tricks I’ve found for making thank-you notes more than an ethereal relic of days gone by.
- Keep a list. Keep a running list of people to thank: teachers, hosts of playdates, cafeteria ladies, grandparents, even authors whose books you’ve enjoyed. Start the habit of keeping the list, and watch how aware you become of whose name you can add.
- Schedule time. Decide on a sit-down session for writing thank-you notes. Put it on the calendar, put a post-it note on the fridge, and remind your family about this appointment to keep together.
- Have a box of supplies. A nice stack of office supplies goes a long way around here. Gather your notecards, markers, stickers, and pens, and we make our way down the list.
- Write thank-you notes together. At our house, I’ve discovered that everything—everything—goes better when I join them in the task. (Everything is also better with a good playlist on a repeating loop, by the way.) And the truth is, I too have my share of thanks to write, and there’s no better teacher than parent who are willing to model the skill.
- Offer to be the writer. When my children were small, I let them dictate their thank-you notes, and I wrote down exactly what they had to say. There’s a lot of charm in getting a thank-you note in kid-speak. For example, one of my favorites: “Grandma, thanks for making your pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. It’s expecially delicious with whoop cream.’”
- Use prompts. I’m the biggest fan of 3×5 cards, and I offer my kids some sentence-starters to help the process along. “I am thankful for…Your gift is so important to me because… I will always remember when we…” These prompts get their ideas going, and they’re able to write with a true sincerity.
- Think outside the box. I’m sure the purists of the thank-you note world would say that texts don’t count, and I certainly prefer the pen to the paper. Still, I will always believe done is better than perfect, and there’s a lot to be said for the ease and availability of a thank-you text, photo, or video via smartphone.
- Make it your own. Let the thank-you note tell a story about something you want to remember. Be genuine and real, not stuffy and formal.
- Send it. Just like thankfulness lives in the act of gratitude, thank-you notes only matter when you send them. So stick some stamps on your works of art, make the trip to the mailbox, and send them out into the world. Let’s bring back the art of the thank-you note.
When we teach our kids to embrace the lost art of the thank-you note, we model for them a practical way to show thoughtfulness for the feelings of others and to appreciate someone’s sacrifice of time and effort. We help them begin to practice and show their gratitude, which is the recipe for a joyful life. And maybe, just maybe with enough seeds planted, your child will someday write a thank-you note to you. (Here’s hoping.)