Remember when our parents made us sit down right after the holidays and send thank you notes? That was a normal part of the holiday season to show gratitude to the givers. Grandparents might have gotten little pictures, or sweet little cards that let them know their grandkids acknowledged their efforts. Alas, those days seem to be all but gone. Why are thank you notes so important?
Why are thank you notes so important?
I teach civility and ethics to children and developed a book series from the classroom lessons. In K-8th grades, we wrestled with this issue and had lively discussions. The children often asked, “Can’t I just say thank you over the phone or email it?” I responded, “It’s better than nothing but it doesn’t reflect the effort put into the gift giving.” Their puzzled faces then leaned in when I listed the process involved in gift giving.
- Your family member thinks about what would be nice for you, researches it, and might spend quite a bit of time online or going to several stores trying to find it.
- They might get in a car, find parking, take the time to shop, and spend real money to purchase.
- There’s the card choice, wrapping, and possible mailing of said gift. And, they might not even get the pleasure of watching you open it.
Their little faces start to change as they hear what it takes and I share, “The level of gratitude you show is representative of the effort you put into saying thank you. A quick, “Thanks, Grandma” is not very heartfelt.”
The deeper issues of writing thank you notes
As grandparents, you understand that giving to your grandkids is often on your mind and there are corners of your home reserved for birthday and holiday gifts. You get a great deal of joy providing nice events, gifts, and meals to your families. Secretly, do you ever feel annoyed that you don’t hear back if they ever received it?
What are we teaching kids if they don’t have to invest themselves in gratitude? They learn to take people for granted. They think they are owed presents. They think the stuff is more important than the giver. They learn not to engage and share their feelings. The act of a thank you note means you took the time to invest in a relationship.
We live in a world where convenience reigns supreme and it often robs us of intimacy and deepening relationships. To keep a long term relationship, you must keep re-investing in it, be vulnerable and appreciative. The art of the thank you note provides all those gestures and can keep, repair, and reinvigorate an ailing relationship.
We are encouraging emotional intelligence. The life skills of an emotionally healthy child who connects to their feelings is willing to share them and is humble enough to show others. That child can take those skills to later acknowledge co-workers, thank their boss, and reframe events with gratitude instead of complaints. Life’s opportunities often come to those who show gratitude.
In the classroom, I usually start the thank you note class with asking: “Who here likes to get presents, go to nice dinners, go on vacations, and go to parties?” Of course, hands fly up. Then I say, “You will get to do and experience all those things a lot more for many years if you learn to say thank you, mean it, and put it in writing.” This is a different way of looking at thank you notes. The wise person shows heartfelt gratitude and doors of opportunity repeatedly open to them.
Thank you notes are an investment
Okay, you say, it’s not that big a deal if they don’t write it, but I wish to stress, what are we teaching them? Yes, it is a big deal because it is a missed opportunity to share their feelings. Example: Once again in the classroom, I ask, “How many of you have lost your grandparents? How many of you have kept the cards your grandparents gave you?” The hands gingerly go up and now it is hitting home. On the blackboard I write in HUGE letters: NO REGRETS! Living with no regrets is a way of life. Missed opportunities of telling people what they mean to you can haunt us potentially for years to come.
Tell the people you love that you appreciate them and what they do for you. Teach your grandkids by modeling it yourself and then share how it makes you feel to receive their notes. Honestly, the cards and thank you notes are often the true gift and what are saved long after the stuff gets broken, misplaced, or discarded.