Emily Postmodern: A Love Letter To The Thank You Note

I write thank you notes for everything. I once wrote someone a thank you note for the thank you note she sent me, just because of the beautiful stationary. I am passionate about the thank you note and their value, and you should be too.

For some, writing thank you notes is like pulling teeth. It can feel forced. It’s awkward if you have bad handwriting or poor spelling (Hi! Dyslexic dysgraphia , party of one.) It’s easy to have every intention of writing someone a note and then just never get around to it. Emailing, Facebook messaging or sliding into someone’s DMs to ask them for their mailing address in order to send them a thank you note seems redundant. Why not just put the thanks in the electronic note to start with, especially if you already said thank you in person when the gift (or gesture) occurred? We have so many ways of expressing gratitude these days, what is it that elevates a folded piece of paper to the one true talisman of good manners?

The rules about when to write a thank you note are easily found (the OG of polite society has that covered). So, I’m not going to tell you what you should write a thank you note for — though, it isn’t ever wrong to say thanks, so if you think you might need to write a note just do it. What I will tell you is that writing a thank you note will not only give you a slightly smug sense of self-importance about having good manners, but it will also give you an opportunity to honor a relationship and brighten someone’s day. Receiving a thank you note — especially via the good old USPS —  is a reminder that you (and your generosity) is acknowledged.

Instead of thinking of thank you notes as an antiquated chore, approach writing them as a way to make your gratitude tangible. A thank you note can be for a specific item or favor, but it can also be a way to tell someone you appreciate them — as a friend, a mentor, a partner, a co-conspirator, whatever! If you feel at a loss for what to say in a note beyond “Thank you for the X. I used it for Y and Z.”, that is fine. Once you get into the habit of writing notes it will become second nature. The most meaningful thank you note I ever received didn’t even mention the gift I gave; instead, it thanked me for emergency FaceTimes dates, living room dance parties, and more than ten years of inside jokes and shared side eye.

The thank you jotted on a Post It (™) has its charm, but well-selected stationery can really make a thank you note thrilling to write and to receive. Also, keeping cards you are excited about on hand makes writing a thank you note all the more natural. They don’t even have to be explicitly thank you cards,, every few years my very-Southern-mother gives me a box of off-white embossed monogram stationery (I guess she didn’t approve of that time I used a “congratulations graduate” card?). It is great though, because it serves as a perfectly serviceable thank you note when needed or for any other reason I might need to send someone a card. If you don’t trust yourself to remember to write that note later when you have found the perfect card, I won’t judge you for reaching for the nearest pad of paper or that seasonally inappropriate greeting card.

Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, Winter gift giving season is rapidly approaching and soon many of us will find ourselves not only being gifted with things, but also hosted by friends and loved ones for dinners and visits. It is easy to lose track of all the people you might need to say thanks to or to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it. Remember that everyone is stressed out during these months, when you sit down to write a thank you note you will have a minute to reflect on the memories of the gifts and events. On the other side of it finding a thank you note in the mailbox in the dark and cold of January will be like someone saved some of the kindness you gave them to share with you. And honestly, who doesn’t just like getting real mail?

Julianna Rose Dow is a thank-you note enthusiast working in higher-ed communications and marketing in NYC. She likes puns, telling people what to wear and baking with bourbon. Got a burning etiquette question? Drop her a line here.