I can’t tell you how much it’s warmed my heart to see all of the orders for letterpress stationery that have flowed into our studio this month. It’s been amazing really. People are getting it. They’re remembering that, in the face of our new contactless society, there is still a way to connect with the ones we care about in a meaningful, heartfelt way. Through the handwritten note.
Of the many reasons to sit down and write a note to someone, saying “thank you” remains at the top of my list. Many of us of a certain age remember being cajoled (okay, forced) to sit down as a child and write a thank you note to Aunt Lee for the Legos she gave us for our birthday. If you’re under 35 and you have this memory, kudos to your parents. They taught you a valuable life lesson: how to express gratitude.
Today with all of the thank-you texting and appreciative emails going on, snail-mail notes have become a bit of a lost art. Let’s change that. To help you out, I’ve rounded up insight and advice straight from those who know to help you understand and master the art of writing thank-you notes.
Why express gratitude?
Because it makes you, and the recipient, feel really good! Gratitude experts Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing in the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin, and Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business offer up some insight as to why writing thank-you notes is so important. In a study titled, “Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation”, they asked participants to predict how surprised, happy, or potentially awkward they thought the recipient would feel when they received the note.
- Overwhelmingly, participants underestimated how pleasantly surprised recipients would be and overestimated the awkwardness that someone receiving a heartfelt thank-you note would feel. Surprising.
- The study also found that the gesture of expressing gratitude in a handwritten note boosts positive emotions and well-being for both the person writing the note and the recipient. Not surprising.
- Kumar and Epley noted, “Wise decisions are guided by an accurate assessment of the expected value of action. Underestimating the value of prosocial actions, such as expressing gratitude, may keep people from engaging in behavior that would maximize their own—and others’—well-being.” In other words, when people assume a thank-you card isn’t that important, and may even cause feelings of awkwardness, they miss out on the major benefits writing a thank-you note provides for both the writer and the recipient.
- Kumar pointed out, ”What we saw is that it only takes a couple of minutes to compose letters like these—thoughtful ones and sincere ones. It comes at little cost, but the benefits are larger than people expect.”
While receiving a gift is at the top of most our lists, there are plenty of other times writing a thank-you note is necessary and beneficial. We turn to the maven of hospitality herself, Martha Stewart, to learn what those pivotal moments are. Below, we rounded up some of the most helpful insights from Martha Stewart Magazine:
- After receiving a gift: This one is obvious—for every gift opened, a thank-you letter should be penned. Martha Stewart Magazine interviewed Jodi R. R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, who said, "Whether it is your birthday, anniversary, graduation, baby shower, Mother's Day, Father's Day, or any other gift-giving holiday, once the presents have been opened, the thank-you notes should be written.” The article also notes, “Vague thank-you notes won't cut it when you are penning a response.” It’s important to be specific about the gift you received, why you loved it, and what it means to you. “Thank you for the gift. I loved it.” doesn’t exactly cut it when it comes to expressing gratitude in a meaningful way.
- After a job interview: This tends to be an occasion people overlook but, as the owner of a social stationery company, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt: I would never hire someone who didn’t send me a handwritten thank-you note! It’s so important to show the interviewer that you appreciated them taking the time to speak with you. According to Martha Stewart Magazine, it’s also a great way to reiterate that you are right for the job. (Bonus!) While you should always shoot for something handwritten, if you know the interview process is hurried and you’re expecting to hear back within 48 hours, Martha Stewart Magazine recommends writing them an appreciative email to ensure your note of gratitude gets to them before they get back to you. But still follow up with a handwritten note.
- After attending an event or party: Being a gracious guest isn’t just about showing up with a hostess gift in-hand (and yes you should). It’s also about taking the time to thank the host afterward for the time and thought they put into the event and their decision to invite you. According to Martha Stewart Magazine, “Your hostess needs to know that guests enjoyed the event and appreciate all of the work that went into making it possible.” If you can, call out something specific about the event that you loved (an item of food, a speaker, a certain decor item, a special moment with the host, etc.).
- After a professional meeting: This doesn’t mean you have to send a thank-you after your weekly admin meeting—but you should send a thank-you note for mentorship meetings (meetings where someone took time out of their day to offer you advice, join you for coffee, or share industry insight), and after important client meetings as a way to acknowledge and appreciate the new business relationship. Martha Stewart Magazine says, “Like the post-interview thank-you note, a letter of thanks sent to your business contacts can help to foster a good impression and strengthen the professional relationship.”
- For random or daily acts of kindness: That coworker who covered for you last-minute? The neighbor who offered to let your dog out while you were stuck at the office one night? The waste management professionals who take care of your trash and recycling every week? They all deserve some gratitude. Whether you’re thanking someone for one small act or for their regular repeated service, it’s important to take inventory of the acts of kindness you benefit from and let people know how much you appreciate the time and energy they put into helping you. According to Martha Stewart Magazine, “We can send thank you notes to teachers, employers, friends, family members...anyone who has affected our lives in a positive way.”
How to write a thank-you note according to Lizzie Post
We read tons of expert advice on this one—but we found our all-time favorite approach comes from an LA Times piece that offers up an easy-to-implement three-step plan for writing thank-you notes. In the article, Lizzie Post of the Emily Post Institute (who also happens to be the granddaughter of the iconic etiquette queen Emily Post) offers up the anatomy of a great thank-you note in three simple steps:
- Step 1: Your Opener: Start your thank-you note off with a simple greeting. Something like, “It was incredible having you at our wedding!” or, “I really enjoyed our chat last week!” is perfect.
- Step 2: Your Thank-You: This is where you thank the recipient for the gift they gave you or the kindness they extended. Make sure you’re specific about what they gave or did and about how you’ll use it or why it matters. Think: “Thank you so much for the cozy hammock. We can’t wait to swing away our Saturdays under the stars in our new backyard!” or, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to sit down and offer me some industry insight. The topics we covered will be incredibly beneficial as I navigate my new role at the office.”
- Step 3: Your Closing: This can be simple, short, and sweet. (“I hope your summer is off to a great start!”) Or, if you’d like, Post says including a wish for the future can be a nice added touch. (“Let’s get together again soon!” or “I hope we’ll see you during Hanukkah!”)
You’ve got your reasoning, your inspiration, and some instruction—now you just need the pretty paper to go along with it. Start shopping BiBA thank-you cards here—or reach out to our design team if you’d like to create your own bespoke stationery.