There is a lot of power in the phrase “thank you.”
A gratitude practice can be a great self-care tool. Taking some time each day to recount what you’re grateful for can have a big effect on mental and even physical health. And showing that gratitude to others can be just as important, though we often find writing meaningful thank you notes so challenging that we simply forego the practice.
There are times when a thank you note is obvious, like getting a gift or being on the receiving end of a gracious favor. Those thank you's come easily. But other times, like when a colleague put in extra effort on a project or a friend went out of their way to show they cared, expressing gratitude outside of a simple “thanks” can fall by the wayside.
There’s probably a reason for that.
Research shows that we often underestimate the impact a thank you note can have. A July 2018 study by Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley published in Psychological Science found that an “egocentric bias may lead expressers to systematically undervalue its positive impact on recipients in a way that could keep people from expressing gratitude more often in everyday life.”
Put simply: we don’t always realize how much it will mean to the other person when we show them our appreciation.
So if we know that expressing gratitude is good for you, and it's good for the recipient of your thanks, then why wait? It's time to make meaningful thank you note writing a part of your routine.
So how do you write a meaningful thank you note?
You don’t have to to be a wordsmith to make your gratitude count. You just have to be sincere and willing to get over the awkwardness you might feel about sending a note.
It's worth it. Here’s how you do it.
Feel the joy of fun stationery
Writing a thank you note might feel like a really formal and old fashioned practice, but it doesn't have to be. A great way to make your note feel informal and fun, while still getting a sincere message across, it to choose from great stationery that puts you in a good mood or expresses your personal style.
Choose something that really matches the message you’re going for. If it’s more serious, try a more minimal card, but if it’s not, feel free to have fun! You may also want the card to match your own personality so that it’ll seem genuine.
Why hand-written? It’s much more personal and the extra effort shows. Anybody could shoot off an email, but there’s just something special about the feeling of receiving a note, knowing the person sat down and really put their energy into it.
When you pick a card with unique style and pair it with a thoughtful, hand-written message, your note is likely to be something the person never forgets. (Seriously!)
Take a moment to feel your genuine feelings
Getting a card is nice, but it's the message inside that really counts. Before you sit down and just write whatever you think a thank you card is supposed to say, take a moment to reflect on why you are writing this card in the first place. What feelings are you feeling? How did this person impact you? What did it mean to you?
If a gift made you excited for the summer, say it! Be specific; that is where the sincerity comes out. If having some extra help on a project made you feel relieved or less stressed, let them know how their actions were so impactful to you.
This is what really makes your note meaningful.
Remember when you were a little kid and your mom made you write thank you notes after the holidays? They’d usually go something like “Dear Grandma, Thank you for the sweater. I love the colors and it will keep me warm.” While your grandma was surely appreciative of the note, you’ll want to include some more sincere emotion in a meaningful thank you note.
Here are some good ways to show authentic appreciation without being too corny:
- “I was so touched by your thoughtful gift.”
- “Your help on this project really made my week a lot easier and relieved a ton of anxiety I had about getting it all done.”
- “It meant so much that you would go out of your way.”
Finally, timing can be everything when it comes to writing these messages, so if you’re feeling out of sorts or overwhelmed, save your thank you writing for a different day, when you can better channel your feelings into words.
Other ways to make your thank you note meaningful
Make it personal
The significance of a thank you can be lost when it is too general. The recipient may think the card was a formality, just one of many you’ve sent out.
Taking an extra sentence or two to reference the gift or action will really complete the note and won’t leave the recipient wondering if you’re being truly genuine about your gratitude. This might include something like referencing back to a previous conversation you had with them, or highlighting one of their strengths that is so uniquely their own.
Go the extra mile with praise
People love praise and a thank you note is the perfect place for it.
Let the recipient of the thank you note know why their action was so thoughtful with a little bit of praise, like how their expertise makes your team stronger or that their natural observant personality makes them a great gift-giver.
Make plans, if appropriate
A great way to end a thank you note is to point to the future. Tell the recipient what you hope to accomplish with them in the future if the note is about work or an assignment. Extending an offer for further opportunities shows how truly grateful you are and that they did a good job.
If the note is about a gift, like a bottle of wine or a gift card to your favorite coffee shop, extend an invitation for a happy hour or cup of coffee in the near future.
Even if you’re writing in a more general sense, you can still include “looking forward to working with you again" or another professional but positive plan.
Sign off with sincerity
A meaningful thank you note isn't complete without a sign-off, of course. But this is where a lot of people get tripped up! What is the right way to wrap up a thank you note? It can feel awkward and confusing to know what to say.
“Take care”, “Until next time”, or “Best wishes” are all good ways to end a thank you note that is a bit more formal.
If you're sending a note to a closer friend or family member, "Love" is one option, but you could also use a more general phrase like "You're the best!" or "Thanks again!" or "Hope to see you soon" can all work as well.