Remember when you were little and you would wish for mail? Remember how exciting it was on those rare occasions that there was something for you? Then you grow up and get more mail than you care to, and it's boring. It's all bills and advertising.
It's still fun to discover an envelope addressed to you by hand. That's part of the reason for sending a good old-fashioned hand-written thank-you note. It's almost like a little gift in itself. Sending a note is just different from telling them in person.
As a Southern girl, I was raised to do this (and I'm trying to raise my kids to do it too). It's just considered bad manners NOT to send a note thanking someone for doing something nice. But the main reason I continue the practice is that it's a kind and gracious gesture. The way I see it, if someone takes the time to go out (or maybe go online) and buy me a gift, the LEAST I can do is take three minutes and write them a note to say that I appreciated their generosity.
But it seems like this is getting to be a rare thing. In a way, I guess that's good for me because it makes me look that much better when someone gets a thank-you note from me!
People act like it's too hard, too formal, too old-school. But I think those are just excuses. You really only need some nice note cards and the time to put together a few sentences. If you don't know where to start, here's all you have to do:
1. Thank the person for the gift. Name it or describe it. Use appropriate adjectives, but don't go overboard. "Thank you so much for the beautiful cashmere sweater."
If the gift was money, it's a bit different because you don't want to sound tacky. You can say something like "the generous gift" or even "the Christmas money." But don't say "the 50 bucks," "the load of cash," or "the fat check."
2. Say something nice about the gift. Tell the person something that you like about the gift or something that you plan to use it for. "It will keep me nice and toasty this winter, and I love the color!"
In the case of money, you don't have to be specific about how you'll spend it. You can say something along the lines of, "You know I love to shop!" Or something like, "I've been saving up for a new iPod, and this will really help." If it was a gift card, you can say something you like about the store.
BUT don't make this stuff up because (1) they might ask you about it later and (2) you're trying to do something nice here, and lying is not nice. If you hate the gift, you can find something nice to say about it that's not a lie. Ugly, scratchy, cheap-looking sweater? "This looks really warm!" A piece of art from the sale at the Holiday Inn? "I just love landscapes!"
3. Thank them just for giving you a gift. A big part of the thank you note is to acknowledge that there's more to a gift than just the thing. You know that saying, "it's the thought that counts"? Well, it is. Even if you hate the gift, you can love the intention behind it. So if someone gave you a hideous Cosby sweater, you can still be grateful that they cared enough about you to go to the trouble and expense to choose it, buy it, wrap it, and give it to you.
Thank them for thinking of you and for taking the time to do something nice for you. Tell them, "You were so sweet to think of me." Or "It was so nice of you to remember our family at Christmas." Or "I'm so fortunate to have a friend like you who takes the time to remember my birthday."
4. End the note by looking to the future. Now you can stop talking about the whole gift thing. Presumably you're writing to someone you have a relationship with—a friend or loved one. Close the note with an acknowledgement of your relationship and good wishes for the future. It could be as simple as, "I hope we can get together soon!" Or maybe, "Can't wait to see you at the beach this summer!"
Told you it's simple. You'll see how good it makes you feel to do something nice for someone else. And it will help you remember to be grateful for the gift of having people who care about you. Gratitude is always a nice feeling!