health and wellness
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the lost art of thank you

letter

I grew up in The South. And in The South, children learn to say “thank you, ma’am” about as quickly as we learn the words “mom” and “yes” [ma’am]. Along with just learning the times to express these sentiments of gratitude (always), we also learn when and for what reasons to express a thank you in the tangible form.

The handwritten thank you almost seems an idea of the past. With social media and internet-everything all over the place nowadays, it’s pretty easy to see why. Which, in my opinion, is unfortunate. How did we let this common courtesy slip past us? When did it become acceptable to just wish someone happy birthday on Facebook rather than pick up the phone and call? And why are we okay with this? Why is our generation so disconnected? (See my latest post on Four Ways To Be A Nicer Person to tune in!)

Writing thank you letters and cards has always been a virtuous deed in my house – even after I moved out of my parents home, I kept this practice close to heart and tried not to let even a few days pass before getting one in the mail. In fact, I sort of thought this was a normal routine with everyone. I assumed everyone was raised to say these words, and show appreciation. Not just because it was expected where I come from, but because the action can sometimes even speak louder than the words themselves. I recall how my little brother, a man of few words, would simply write a couple lines and sign his name. Yet, whoever the recipient would be overjoyed to have received his acknowledgement of their generosity and consideration. His couple lines would share volumes of his gratitude.

If this practice is something you do already, then do not stop! Please don’t let this sign of gratitude just vanish into the past. But if you are someone who maybe has never developed this practice, then here are some easy ways to draft your first handwritten thank you letter.

OneAddress the giver. If you know them by first name, then use that. If you always refer to them as Mr. or Mrs./Ms. then proceed as you would normally call them to their face.

Two Say thank you. Your first line should tell them right away what your letter or card is about. “Thank you so much for attending my bridal shower, and for your very generous honeymoon contribution”. Or something to that effect.

Three Expand on why you are grateful. Tell them a few things about why their gift/presence meant to so much to you. “The set of bowls will be so useful in our kitchen, as you know how much I love to bake! In fact, I have a recipe I was planning to try out this weekend!”. Just personalize it so that you share a bit of yourself and how their gift relates to your needs. Be truthful! This section can be as long as you’d like. If it is something very dear to heart, you may have paragraphs to share. If it was a more simple or unexpected gift, you may just want to share how you will use or enjoy it. If you struggle to elaborate, then just simply say “Your kindness is truly appreciated”.

Four Thank them one last time. If you elaborated on your gratitude, then now is the time to tie it all back together. Say thank you one more time, perhaps a little differently than you phrased it in your opening line, or with a different tone that still relates. Going with the bridal shower theme, I would have said “Thank you so much for your presence and your blessings on my and Evan’s marriage. Your thoughtfulness means so much to us!”. You can also say something like “I am truly blessed to have you as a friend/family member/coworker”. Again, be truthful. If you don’t feel these sentiments then don’t express it in this way, but you can however sign off with one last “Thank you again for your gift”.

Five Sign your name. Sounds silly to say this, but there are several ways to properly end a letter in a polite way. You can end with “Sincerely, Chelsea” or perhaps you know this person better and can say something to the effect of “God Bless & Take Care, Chelsea” or maybe just a “Love, Chelsea”. Either way, you want to make sure that your conclusion is as appropriate as your opening address. If this is a coworker, boss or someone you don’t know well, go with “Sincerely”.

Now, I’m no Emily Post but I feel like this is a good start to developing this lost art of saying thank you! To be honest, in many cases it is not really even about the words on the paper, it’s the action that they signify. You took the time to really sit down and appreciate what someone else did or gave you, and then went beyond that to show them to what extent. High five! Now go write some thank yous! sig

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Chelsea is a marine scientist in Puerto Rico. Her interests include invasive species ecology, fish biology and ecology and marine protected area management. She is a co-founder of the only field course coordination company in Puerto Rico - Isla Mar Research Expeditions.

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