"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." — William Arthur Ward
Why is sometimes so hard to put a heartfelt thanks into words, even when we feel it? Writing doesn't always come naturally, and sometimes it feels like our words will fall short of the gratitude we feel. Other times, a gift arrives unexpectedly and we are unsure of what's expected of us in return.
But writing a thank you note doesn’t have to be so hard. In fact, you can learn the structure of a good thank you card, and replicate it whenever you need to say "thank you" for anytime. A few key details can elevate any thank you to make it represent your genuine feelings of happiness, gratitude, and thanks.
Science has shown that expressing gratitude improves the well-being of both the giver and the recipient. A 2018 study found that people who undervalue the impact of showing their gratitude actually may hold them back from sharing it more often. Put simply: The more you practice gratitude, the better it feels and the more likely you are to do it.
But do people even write thank you notes anymore? Maybe not as often as they used to, but that doesn't mean you should skip them. Why miss out on an opportunity to make yourself and someone else feel happier?
Gratitude never goes out of style.
Before you start writing, you'll need a pen or pencil, and either some nice paper or some stationery. Try not to stress about your materials too much; if you can't afford fancy cards and fountain pens, that will not take away from the meaning of your message. Truly it is the thought that counts.
If you're someone who loves stationery and pens, though, take the opportunity to have some fun! Writing a thank you note is all about expressing joy and happiness, so if you love your materials, it will get you in the right headspace to write a happy, joyful note.
Part 1: The greeting
This is probably the most obvious part of a thank you note, but you’ll want it to match the recipient. The greeting sets the tone for the gratitude.
For more formal relationships, use you can use a Mr. or Mrs., but for people you’re more closely acquainted with feel free to stick with first names and “Hi” or “Hey!”.
Don't overthink this part! This is just a means to getting to your main message. Much like any message, you can give a quick introduction before getting to your main thank you. Something like:
- "I hope you're enjoying the holidays this year!"
- "I hope you're doing well!"
- "It was so nice to see you at ____."
Part 2: The message
This is the mail bulk of the note, so this is where you'll spend most of your time. However, don't feel you need to invest an hour in crafting the perfect paragraph! Just a couple of sincere, friendly sentences is really all you need.
Add in a few details, like why the gift meant so much or how you plan to use it. This is what makes a good thank you a great thank you! You don’t need to include a lot here, but adding a few sentences will help show why it is you’re so grateful.
- “I just wanted to say thank you for the Starbucks gift card! A latte was just what this week needed.”
- “I loved the scarf you gifted me for my birthday. It matches my wardrobe just perfectly.”
- “The book is such a great addition to my collection. I can’t wait to spend some time reading this weekend! You really know me so well.”
Remember to be genuine! You don’t need to go over the top. Simplicity goes a long way in a thank you note. Someone who took the time to pick out a gift for you wants to know it was appreciated or useful; you don't need to go on and on to make it meaningful!
If the gift is something you didn't actually love or plan to use much, don't let that hold you back from sending a thank you. You can thank the person for what you *do* appreciate about the gift; for example:
- "It was so thoughtful of you to bring me something from your vacation!"
- "I am so grateful you always think of us around the holidays."
- "I was so surprised to get a package in the mail! It totally made my day."
You can also add a line that points to the future to let your gifter know how much you value them personally:
- “You have great taste!”
- "You are so thoughtful."
- "You are so kind!"
- "You always know just what to do to lift my spirits!"
Part 3: The sign-off
End the note just like you started it, with how grateful you are for their gift. You don’t need to be repetitive to get the point across one final time, so feel free to tie in a personal message that isn't totally gift-related if it is appropriate. Otherwise, it never hurts to sign off by making sure they know you appreciate their gesture.
- “We’ll have to try that new lunch spot we’ve been talking about soon.”
- “Thanks again for thinking of me. It really means a lot!”
- "I am lucky to have a friend like you!"
- “You are so thoughtful! Thanks again.”
Keep in mind the relationship for the sign-off just as you did at the beginning of the note.
- “Sincerely,” or “Best,” works well for more formal relationships.
- “Love,” or “Your friend,” are good ways to end less formal notes.
When to send a thank you note
When in doubt, send a thank you! It's almost never wrong to say thank you, even for something very small, when someone has gone out of their way to gift you something.
Etiquette expert Dianne Gotsman offers this advice: “Generally speaking, if you live in the same house or share the same bathroom, you are likely immediate family so a verbal thank you is all that is warranted. However, it all depends on the gift, gesture, and effort. Even your mother or husband would appreciate an unexpected and heartfelt thank you note for their gesture of kindness.”
Another good rule of thumb is to send a thank you note sooner rather than later, but Gotsman says sending one late is better than not at all. Gratitude never gets old!
“Even if it is a year later, believe me, the giver still remembers and will be relieved to know you used the gift or appreciated the money,” she says.
In cases where you’ve let time go by and feel like a thank you note may be awkward, add a line about how often you use the gift or that you’ve been thinking about how thoughtful it was all this time later.
- “I finally got the chance to use the gift card this week and it was just the treat I’ve needed after a few stressful months.”
- “It’s been a busy couple of weeks, but I wanted to say thanks for the new mug. I use it every day!”
- “I’m sorry this didn’t reach you sooner! Your gift was so thoughtful. Thank you!”
So how do you know if you should send a thank you note?
“If you are ever in the position to wonder if you need to write a thank you note, the answer is most likely a resounding yes!” Gotsman says. “...when you receive a gift or someone extends a gesture that is above-and-beyond the call of duty, a thank you for their thoughtfulness is always an appropriate effort.”