The Gift of Gratitude: Thank you notes benefit giver, receiver

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

On Christmas morning, bows will be tossed aside, paper will be shredded, and all those carefully wrapped gifts will be revealed to their new owners.
Santa Claus probably doesn’t expect a thank you note for the stuff he brings, but others might want a written acknowledgment of their yuletide generosity.
“If they thought enough of you to send you a gift, you should think enough of them to send a thank you note,” said Betty Hancock, director of the National League of Junior Cotillion’s Tupelo Chapter.
The thank you note is a rite of passage for some kids.
“I know parents who have their child write a thank you note before they get to play with a new toy,” Hancock said.
In other homes, kids can be instructed to write a note, but parents might not follow up. Some completely neglect the practice.
Rubye Del Harden, owner of Sprint Print in Tupelo, was required to send thank you notes when she was a child. As an adult, she finds the practice has as much or more to do with creating positive feelings for her as it does for the person she’s thanking.
“If you focus on what you’re thankful for, your life will get better. If you focus on the annoyances, you’ll get more reasons to be annoyed,” said Harden, who teaches leadership and success skills. “I do think writing thank you notes is an excellent way of developing an attitude of gratitude.”
Whether you want to teach a child the importance of expressing gratitude for his or her blessings, or you want to become a more thankful person, help is available.
“You really can do it,” Harden said. “You really have a choice.”
Make it fun
Perfectionism often gets in the way, according to Hancock. It can be difficult for a kid or an adult to figure out what to say. The good news is notes don’t have to be long, drawn out essays. A few lines can get the message across.
“It just needs to be written promptly. It should be sincere. The style should be formal and the message brief,” Hancock said.
One way to boost the fun factor is to use colorful note cards. Shelly Daniel, co-owner of Swirlz in Tupelo, said there are card lines available that allow someone to inject their own personal style before a word is written.
“We have a lot of customers who try to get their children to do it,” Daniel said. “We carry cards that have the child’s picture on them. It’s trying to make it more fun to get the younger generation interested in sending thank you notes.”
A variety is available for adults, too. From initials and colorful designs to Mississippi State Bulldog and Ole Miss Rebel logos, a writer can put a personal stamp on each note.
“You can be formal or more relaxed with it,” Daniel said.
Break it down
The enormity of the task can be another obstacle. If you’re particularly blessed at Christmastime, you might find yourself on the hook for a lot of thank you notes.
“A bad goal would be to say, ‘I’m going to start writing thank you notes.’ It doesn’t say to whom or when or anything,” Harden said. “A good goal: ‘I will write five by tomorrow.’ It’s specific, measurable and you have a completion date.”
Break the goal down into manageable bits. It’d be tough for a bride to write 100 cards in one day. Two a day over 50 days isn’t so daunting a task.
“The biggest obstacle is starting,” Harden said. “Most of the time, once you get started, you find it’s 10 times easier than you thought it was going to be.”
Going forward
One of Harden’s favorite type of thank you note is the kind that arrives out of the blue.
“I think it’s so powerful to say, ‘I appreciate who you are, not just what you gave me,’” she said. “If I am grateful for you and don’t tell you, then I might feel better, but you won’t. Spread it around.”
In the 21st century, email and text messages are important modes of communication, but they lack one crucial element that an old-fashioned, snail-mail letter provides.
“From a practical standpoint, anything is better than nothing,” Hancock said, “but as an etiquette teacher and coach, I believe a written note is always best and it’s always appreciated. It gives them something they can hold on to and put away.”
Perhaps they’ll find the note months or years later, and get to enjoy the sentiment all over again. It’s an extra bit of enjoyment that a card can provide.
“The etiquette could evolve into something else,” Hancock said, “but a lot of us are trying to hang on to the old traditions in this electronic age. It’s so important to be appreciative and to acknowledge what people do for you. I hope that’s not something we lose in the future.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com