We have just passed through the Christmas season, and two of my children have winter birthdays. In our house, it is the season of thank you notes. My daughter asks if she can go play with a friend, and I respond with, “After you write a thank you note.”
It is odd to me that thank you notes have become so unusual in the familial realm. In the professional world that I dabble in, there are books and talks given about the importance of sending a personal thank you note. I have a lovely collection of notes I’ve received for just doing my job. They are meaningful and inspiring to me, and have made me think more and more about the work of being grateful. But while a thank you note used to be something you sent your grandma when you received a gift, it is becoming more common to get a thank you from your CPA for your business this year. Grandma isn’t getting very many notes anymore.
Why? I’m not entirely sure, but perhaps because we are a little less grateful for “stuff” than we used to be. And I get that. Credit expanded, cheap goods made in far off countries proliferated, and the two or three gifts I received on Christmas as a kid have become nine or ten for this generation of kids.
I am not a “thing” person. I am a minimalist who laments every year that my kids get too much stuff. I struggle to be grateful that my son has a Nerf gun arsenal that would make him highly suspicious if this stuff was real or that our house sometimes feels like walking into a Lego store. Yet, being thankful to the people who gave these gifts is an important thing that I want my children to cultivate. It is not a cultural relic to be forgotten like corded phones and VCRs.
Thank you notes are treasures of expression to remind us that no one is obligated to give us anything. A gift is a gift! And should be celebrated each and every time.
Yes, it is easier to send an email, make a phone call, or tweet out a photo with a “Thx for the….” But easy isn’t necessarily better.
I will make my stand that an old-fashioned note in a childish scrawl, with maybe just a picture and a signature, is still preferred. (Plus, it counts for handwriting practice!)
I still remember who gave me each of my wedding gifts. When I use a gift from someone today, I feel grateful for the support they gave us all those years ago. I think that writing a thank you note for every gift probably helped me better remember the giver. Writing notes has always given me time to reflect and added to the sense of gratefulness for the giver’s sacrifice.
Acts are powerful. They shape the mind. So, for a culture that loves to talk about “gratefulness” – at least each November – we might have to put our money where our mouth is and sit down and write an “actual” note.
Grateful actions are also powerful antidotes to the entitlement issues we are struggling with culturally. When my kids sit down to write a note to an uncle who gave them a gift, they have to sacrifice a few moments to dwell on what his action has given them. In some small way, they realize it might not have been that way. For which they are grateful.