Thursday, 13 October 2011


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”G.K. Chesterton
(As always, if you are pressed for time, skip down to the WHAT YOU CAN DO section of this entry.)

Abortion, captital punishement, male circumcision...all of these are extremely contentious and controversial issues.  I mention them here only to put this week's blog entry into perspective, as I am about to (no doubt) step on some toes and cause some discussion.  This week I am going to discuss the importance of (wait for it...):  Thank You Cards.  I'm going to try to 'bring them back'!

Thank you cards should be sent in appreciation and acknowledgement of gifts, for a meal or week-end trip, or in gratitude for something special you have received from someone.  Obviously one does not send a thank you card/note for everything, or one would never get up from one's desk!  However, they are sent far too rarely (in my opinion), and as this blog is about celebrating civic engagement, I think this counts.

Yes, I know it sounds incredibly old-fashioned.  I can also hear parents out there muttering about how crowded schedules are, and time management, and how hard it is to find time for anything let alone sitting down with one's child/children and teaching them the art of writing a thank you card.  Those who are childless/childfree will not doubt be muttering about lack of time and unnecessary formalities.  (I'm not perfect, and I have been known to get too busy to send out thank you cards too, so I do understand!)  Give me a chance to tell you why I think thank you cards are important. 

At it's most simple, a thank you card is an opportunity to acknowledge someone's thoughtfulness, to cement family and social relationships, and a chance to brighten someone else's day.  I think we've all had a card arrive unexpectedly in our mailbox, just telling us how someone else is thinking of us.  How much more special is it to receive a card acknowledging the fact that you have touched someone else's life, if only a little?

There are the very practical benifits of thank you cards.  They allow you a graceful way of acknowledging the receipt of a package or gift through the mail, or through a third party.  The gift-giver has confirmation that the gift has not been lost.
The gift-receiver has an opportunity to gracefully let the gift-giver know how much s/he liked the gift as well.  As with many social graces, gift giving and receiving is an exchange - the gift-giver receives pleasure from giving.  Lack of feedback from the gift-receiver robs the gift-giver from a lot of this pleasure. 

The gift-giver is also provided with an opportunity to analyze your response, and adjust future gifts if s/he feels that you didn't like it.  Note that I did not say "didn't appreciate it".  One can, and should, appreciate the time and effort that someone spends in choosing and sending a gift, even if the gift itself is a bit of a dud. 

However, one should also be honest about a gift (and there is a very easy 'code' for letting someone know you didn't like the gift while still being polite and showing appreciation).  It is entirely appropriate to thank someone for the thought ("I'm very grateful that you wanted to help keep me warm now that I'm living in Inuvik") and yet still providing useful feedback ("I tend to wear a lot of neutral colours in the office and red is a bit bright; however since the sweater is so warm and snuggly, it will be perfect for keeping me warm under my skido suite on week-ends".  )No one wants to spend time and money giving a gift that isn't liked - by providing an honest and tactful response, you save the giver from making the same mistake again, and provide him/her with useful information.  You can also be less direct ("thank you for wanting to keep me warm - so thoughtful of you!") and allow the giver to follow up if s/he chooses.

Thank you cards also provide you with an opportunity to revisite being grateful.  It cements the fact that someone thought of you. It helps chase out the blues and 'no one cares' on bad days, and it helps you to remember it on good days.  It provides the gift-giverwith concrete proof of their importance, and your care, on their 'blue' days as well.

From a business standpoint, appropriate use of thank you cards can also help you stand out from the crowd (in a good way), as they are rare these days.  I actually got a job offer once because, without thinking, I had sent a thank you card to the host of a party I had been invited to.  It was so unusual, evidentally, and impressed both the host (who was a large donor to the non-profit organization where I was volunteering)  and the Executive Director , that they created a job for me. 

Thank you cards do not have to be sent by snail-mail either.  Care 2 has an amazing assortment of free ecards, including thank you cards, that you can email out once you have an account.  I know there are other sites out there that provide e-cards as well.  Know when it is appropriate to send a thank you note by email (for a job interview, for something less formal, etc.) and when it is appropriate to send a thank you card by snail mail (to a grandmother for a gift, to a host for a formal party, for a wedding gift or a donation in memory of a loved one).

There is a basic formula for writing a thank you card.  Amy Vanderbilt has an excellent section in her book (and yes, I do own and use it - it's one of the first books I bought myself when I got my own apartment years back, and I've never regreted it).  I've paraphrased somewhat, but here is my adaptation of her formula:

For Gifts:

  1. Adress the person/people you are thanking.
  2. Mention who is doing the thanking (you, you and your partner, you and your two children, etc.)
  3. Thank the person for the gift.
  4. Mention something about the gift.
  5. End on an upbeat note.

An example would be:

Oct. 12, 2011

Dear Amy and Fred:

Stewart and I would like to thank you both for the lovely vase.  It's the perfect size for our dining room table, and we plan on using it for flowers we cut from our garden this coming summer.  We will think of your thoughtfulness every time we use it.

It's so wonderful having friends like you in our lives!

(then you sign the letter)

For a Party/meal, etc.:
  1. Adress the person/people you are thanking.
  2. Mention who is doing the thanking (you, you and your partner, you and your two children, etc.)
  3. Thank the person for the hospitality and the meal.
  4. Mention something noteworthy about the evening/time spent.
  5. End on an upbeat note.

An example would be:

Oct. 12, 2011

Dear Jean:

I am so grateful to you for all the effort you went to to provide me with a vegan option at your dinner party on Saturday.  I know that it was extra work added to an already stressful day, and I did want you to know how much I appreciated the wonderful meal. 

It was also lovely being able to meet some of your friends (Yumi is a fountain of good book recommendations, isn't she?).

I'm so lucky to have a friend like you!

(sign your name)

For a job interview:
  1. Address the person (if a committee, you may send an email to each committee member, or one addressed to the committee c/o the contact you have for the application)
  2. Thank the member/s for taking the time to meet with you, and providing you with an opportunity to interview for the job.
  3. Mention how much you appreciated the opportunity to meet with the committee member/s, and getting to know a bit more about the position and the company/organization.
  4. If you have additional items that you would like to mention (for instance, you have contacted your references and they are expecting to hear from them, or a list of your references, or something that you said in the interview that you would check on - now is the time).
  5. Sign off with something along the lines of how it was a pleasure being able to meet with them.

An example would be as follows (sent by email, professionally formatted):

Dear Mr. Smith:

I greatly appreciate having the opportunity to interview with you yesterday morning.  I am grateful I had the opportunity to meet you and your fellow committee members, and to learn more about the Computer Programmer position with your company, as well as about IBM in general. 

Further to our discussion, I have contacted my references.  They are expecting your call.  Their contact information is as follows:

Amy Smith
General Manager, Kodac 
514-555-0000, loc. 613

John Jones
CEO, Russian Storehouse
1-800-555-0000, loc. 111

Once again, I thank you for your time.

A. Apathy

So, here are a few things you can do to bring back Thank You Cards:


1.  If you have children, get them involved in writing thank you notes, even if they can't write yet. 

Have them draw a picture in the card after you have written down what they want to say. 

If they are older than a year and a half, but younger than pre-school age, write a short note for them and have them 'sign' it with a thumbprint while you explain to them (briefly) why you are doing this.  (Yes, they are young - but this is a beginning of a habit, and as you will be setting an example and writing the thank you note anyway, it's a great way to include them.) 

If they are old enough to write a card, then get them to write simple sentences (don't correct for spelling - the idea is to get them to write something heartfelt within a shortened version of 'the formula'.) 

As they grow older, let them know it is their responsibility and they are simply expected to do so.  Let them choose a box of thank you cards that they like.  Introduce them to an ecard site for times that emailing a thank you card is appropriate. Make writing thank you notes part of a ritual.  For instance, in our family Dec. 26th was the day we wrote thank you cards for Christmas presents.  As we grew older, we organized the list of cards to write and divied it up over a week (this is still, mostly, my system). 

2.  Research various time-lines for thank you cards (wedding gifts, etc.).

3.  Buy some nice thank you cards for yourself.

4.  Write thank you notes and cards

5.  Especially write thank you cards to children, so that they can see how much fun it can be to get one.


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