October 24, 2018

Scientific Proof That You Need to Start Writing Thank You Notes

How you can improve your life and someone else’s life in just a few lines of text.

When you were growing up, were you told you had to write thank you notes?

When you’re little, you don’t quite get this exercise and if you’re like me, you likely dreaded this part of the gift-receiving process…trying to put into words why you’re thankful, what you’re thankful for, etc. and maybe even questioning why a verbal “thank you” isn’t enough?

So you wrote the thank you notes, not really getting it, until you were old enough to decide for yourself whether to write them or not.

Maybe as an adult, you still find thank you notes a chore or you’ve stopped doing them altogether.

And with more technology in our lives, handwritten thank yous seem unnecessary and obsolete, replaced by electronic, short, quick, and, more likely, superficial messages. Why get the paper, sit down, write in ink, and buy a stamp (!), when you have text, email, Facebook, or any other speedy, electronic means at the tip of your fingers to shoot off a thank you with an exclamation mark and smiley face?

Rarely do people send thank you notes, let alone handwritten ones, anymore. But things that are rare are often the most special and memorable.

And that is why, even in 2018, it is so valuable and important to send a thank you note.

Need help thinking of people, places, or things that you’re thankful for? We’ve created a free worksheet to help you identify the things that mean the most to you.

Thank you notes create happiness in the world

This is backed up by a July 2018 study by Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley published in Psychological Science. They found that participants in the study had some pretty big misjudgments about the impact of gratitude:

1. Thank you note senders underestimated their recipient’s feelings, including:

  • How positive the recipient would feel about receiving the thank you
  • How surprised the recipient was by the content
  • How warm the recipient would feel about the sender and how much more competent they would view the sender as

2. The senders also overestimated how awkward their recipients would feel in receiving a thank you note.

3. In addition, senders were self-conscious about their thank you note writing competency and let that deter them from writing and sending thank yous.

Do any of these feelings sound familiar to you? These are all things I’ve definitely thought — and they’ve unfortunately kept me from sending notes that might have otherwise improved my life and the life of the person I wanted to thank.

So next time you’re not sure if you should send a thank you note or not, I urge you to keep these facts in mind!

Even if you think someone won’t benefit from your thanks, their lives won’t change drastically or be any different, this research shows those thoughts and opinions are not quite accurate.

It’s actually the opposite – the recipient’s view of you will change positively and for the better. Instead of thinking through all of the reasons that justify not writing a thank you, just go for it!

If you think you aren’t a good thank you note writer, never learned how, or didn’t have someone in your life to foster a joy of writing in this way, let us help you master a simple thank you. You won’t ever question making this generous and thoughtful gesture again.

How to write a heartfelt thank you note

It won’t take that much of your time, we promise. Follow this simple how-to to get started:

1. Think about what you are thankful for and why

Anything and everything is up for grabs when it comes to thank yous, so don’t just think about physical, tangible gifts or objects you received. Intangible gifts like being a job reference or teaching a life lesson are often some of the most thoughtful things that people do for each other, but they can be harder to recognize.

Start by thinking about and naming what you received from people in your life:

  • What did you receive or what did someone do for you that you are thankful for? Think about the thing or experience in one word or a short phrase at first.
  • How will the gift change or improve your life in the future and why?
  • How did a past action or intangible gift make a difference to you or make you who you are today?
  • What are you going to do with the gift?

These question prompts are intended to help you put your feelings into words. This is one of the hardest parts of writing a thank you note and why so many people think they aren’t good at writing thank yous.

With a little preparation, though, it will be much easier to say what you want to say.

Now use this first step as a guide to write out a draft of your thank you.

2. Identify who you are going to thank

And address it accordingly, whether it’s more formal like “Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms.” or more casually like “Hey [nickname]” for a close friend or family member.

3. Keep it short and sincere

You don’t need to write a book or even fill up the paper or card you are using. And the message doesn’t have to be eloquent either. The sincerity of what you write is more important than how much you write or what words you use. What is most important is that you say what you mean.

Writing the thank you doesn’t have to take up your entire afternoon; take 5-10 minutes to brainstorm and then write. If you prefer, you can type up a draft of your note on the computer so it’s easier to edit. Then when you’re ready, hand-write it onto a nice card or paper.

4. Starting out

Write a sentence of greeting if it’s appropriate or in reference to what prompted the thank you, like a holiday, birthday celebration, or a lovely meal, such as:

“I hope you are doing well since we last talked/met/caught up.

Or…

“I enjoyed seeing you over the holidays and just wanted to express how wonderful it was to catch up with you.”

5. Filling in the body

Then, write at least one sentence describing what you are thankful for and why, for example:

“I was so touched that you attended my event last week. Thank you for taking the time to support me and my endeavors! I was nervous, but seeing you in the audience really helped me get through it.”

Or…

“The birthday gift you gave me was so touching; you’re so thoughtful and considerate for remembering that I love _____.”

You can elaborate if you want to. Some thank you notes will be longer than others. If you want to share a personal story or explain in more detail how much a person, gift, or gesture means to you, you can take as much space as you need.

6. Closing

No need for anything fancy. A simple “thank you” or “hope to see you soon” will work. You can also sign it a bit more formally by using phrases like: “sincerely,” “all the best,” or “with love”.

7. Write it by hand

Find nice paper or blank/“thank you” stationary and write your thank you by hand. When you’re shopping for stationery, pick cards and papers that are an approachable size. You don’t want to pressure yourself to fill a huge blank card!

Most people’s mail consists of junk mail, bills, and catalogs, so a handwritten note is a gem and it will stand out. It will probably be the first thing they open that day!

An unexpected surprise that won’t make someone feel awkward or uncomfortable, but rather excited, happy, recognized, and touched. You will be making their day before they even open the envelope.

Sending your thank you by email or through other electronic means will still bring about similar feelings, but it won’t have the same solid, physical feeling in their hand or the same unique font or style. Plus, electronic messages are so easy to forget; you read them, then file or save them somewhere or they get lost in a string of texts, inadvertently buried away. And most people receive so many electronic messages each day that it can be hard for your thank you to really stand out.

For these reasons, try sending a handwritten thank you note, which is less likely to fall by the wayside.

If you don’t know someone’s address, you can text or email them to ask for it. (A good thank you doesn’t have to be a complete surprise!) If you’re not sure of their address, you can try finding their workplace address online and sending it to them there.

When in doubt, send a thank you

Sending thank you notes after an interview, asking someone to be a reference, or receiving a gift are all situations where a thank you note is a must and more obvious to most.

But if you’re not sure whether to send a thank you (maybe the interaction was brief or it doesn’t seem like a big deal to say thank you in such a formal way) do it anyways.

The worst that will happen is you’ll be sending a positive message out into the world. There is very little harm in that, and a lot of potential reward.

After a meeting where someone seemed to go above and beyond in putting it together or if someone checked in on you when you weren’t feeling well are examples of simple acts that are worth a thank you. Why? Because they show consideration, thoughtfulness, and proactiveness that are often overlooked or taken for granted. A thank you note shows that you recognized more than just an action, but the thought and attitude the person embodies behind it.

It is all about paying forward good feelings. And it only takes a couple minutes of your day.

Who can you send a thank you note to today and what will you express thanks for?

In my family, whenever an older relative passed away, the cards, pictures, and thank you notes I had sent them over the years were returned to me. Like a time capsule going back many years, it was such a special example of how that hand-written expression of love meant enough to someone to hold onto.

Don’t hold back and talk yourself out of writing a thank you. Express your thanks in a memorable and genuine way through a simple, handwritten thank you. It will do much more than you probably expect.

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