A little thank you can go a long way.
“Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” – Estonian Proverb
Every year I send out my article, The 9-Step Formula for Forgiveness, around Thanksgiving so that people can make amends with family and friends and have a happier holiday season. This year though, I thought I’d do something different. By now, enough has been written about gratitude and being thankful at this time of year. We all know the power of taking a few moments to list for what we are grateful. However, the problem with a daily dose of gratitude is that if you actually do this daily, it loses its punch. Which begs the question: How do you retain the wonderful feeling of gratitude throughout the year?
While researching the topic, I happened upon a library book by John Kralik, A Simple Act of Gratitude. In the book, Kralik relates his personal experiment in writing a daily, heartfelt, personal thank you note for one year after receiving a clear message while out hiking Echo Mountain on New Year’s Day. This distinct voice clearly said,
“Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want.”
Now, one could easily discount this strange voice that spoke to him as a delusional episode triggered by excessive stress. But I once received a similar message from a clear and commanding voice that said, “Write a coaching book.” This voice came while I was meditating on my shabby chic sofa in NYC. That book was my first and most successful book–Coach Yourself to Success. At the time, I had already learned the incredible power of gratitude (Tip 50 in the book is “Send Five Thanks a Day”). So, when Kralik described that he heard a voice outside himself speak, I could relate and didn’t think it at all weird.
At the time Kralik was going through a painful second divorce. Meanwhile, his professional law practice was failing despite his working all hours. Naturally, he was wracked with bitterness. Although he couldn’t explain this voice that seemed to have no relation to all the other thoughts swirling around his head, it prompted him to recall a time when he was five years old. At that time, his grandfather gave him a silver dollar and said that if Kralik wrote a letter thanking him for the silver dollar, he’d send another one. Young John wrote the thank you and, true to his word, his grandfather sent him another silver dollar. However, John never sent a second thank you note. Thus, he didn’t receive any more silver dollars. In view of all this, John decided to write one thank you note a day for a year. If the voice was right, he reasoned, he would begin to get the things he wanted.
It isn’t often one feels sorry for a down-on-his-luck lawyer. Yet, I found his story personal and moving as he recounted his gradual transformation from bitterness to joy as he shifted from focusing on what he lacked to focusing on all the good things and loving people in his life. Kralik asserts that writing 365 thank you notes, “…forced me to look at the many things in my life for which I needed to be grateful. Looking back at the list, I see now that at least a hundred of these notes I should have been writing all along for Christmas presents, housewarming gifts, extraordinary efforts by my co-workers, special gifts from friends, concert and sport tickets, dinners and expensive lunches.” After all, it is just good manners to send a thank-you note for a gift.
Kralik concludes after a year of thank you notes:
“I did not view writing thank you notes as a self-help system, nor did I view it as a new positive psychological method to delude myself into believing that my life is better than it really is or cultivate an artificial state of well-being. This is just an exercise in average good manners.
At the risk of making an unscientific and directly moral statement, I will say that writing thank you notes is a good thing to do and makes the world a better place. It also made me a better man. More than success or material achievements, this is what I sought.”
How to Write an Impactful Thank-You Note:
So, how do you write a concise, moving thank-you note? Kralik admits that he got better with practice. He used plain note cards and hand-wrote the words “Thank You” on the front to reinforce his feelings of gratitude. He believes that handwriting a note distinguishes it from an email. Also, it feels “like sincere gratitude.” The best thank you notes, “…will stir in the recipients’ hearts the knowledge that their gesture was truly appreciated, and even inspire the desire to give again, knowing they will be thanked and appreciated.” If you’ve ever received a thoughtful thank you note, then you know how wonderful it can make you feel! I keep special notes I’ve received from readers and occasionally reread them to motivate me to keep on writing and coaching.
10 rules of thumb for writing a thoughtful thank you note:
Send holiday, birthday, wedding and shower notes within a month. But no matter how late you are, you can start with, “I’ve been meaning to reach out to you and thank you for…”
1. Start with the salutation: Dear Grandpa or To My Aunt Sue. Make sure you have their name spelled correctly!
2. “Thank you for…” (mention the gift specifically in a positive tone). Include specific details to show your appreciation. You might share how you’ll use the gift or how it is benefitting your life, e.g. “Many thanks for the lovely green cardigan. I’m looking forward to wearing it to a dinner party this week.”
3. Instead of mentioning a cash gift directly you could thank them for their generosity and hint at what you might buy with it. “Thank you for your generosity. I’ve been eyeing a particular pair of shoes and this gift will make them possible.” If it is not a material gift, you can thank the person for what they’ve done for you and show your appreciation for their care and effort.
4. If you forgot to thank them for something in the past you could mention that or the importance of their relationship to you. “I’ve been meaning to thank you for the beautiful flowers you sent on my birthday as well. You are always so thoughtful.”
5. Keep it short and concise—a note, not a letter- to focus on your gratitude.
6. Never ask how you might return or exchange the gift in your note. A good friend would have told you or included a gift receipt. (You can always regift or donate an unwanted gift).
7. Write a first draft (use a 3X5 card so you get the length right or a spreadsheet).
8. Add a personal sentiment such as, “I enjoyed seeing you at Thanksgiving and look forward to your next visit.”
9. Restate your thanks in a different way, perhaps acknowledge something about them. “Thanks again for the sweater and taking the time to find one in my favorite color of blue.” Or, “Thanks for the tie with blue dots, you have such a great sense of style.”
10. Closing: “Warmly” or Best Wishes, Cheers, With Love, and then sign your first name.
To give you an idea here is a sample thank-you note John handed to his barista:
Thank you for taking the time each morning to greet me in a friendly way. It is so wonderful to me that you took the time and trouble to remember my name. In this day and age, few people make this effort and fewer still do it in a way that feels sincere. You do both. It really makes a difference to me every day.
After reading Kralik’s book, I realized that I had gotten lazy. Instead of writing hand-written notes, I was sending email thank you notes which aren’t as impactful. Now, I’m inspired to write a handwritten daily thank you note. I’ve already noticed how much I have to be thankful for. This simple task will not only remind you of how much good is in your life, but also has the wonderful benefit of making others feel good about themselves. So much better than a gratitude list!
As I wrote in Coach Yourself to Success, “In the process of looking for people to thank and writing these simple notes, you will feel a wonderful warm feeling of gratitude. Done day in and day out, you will begin to develop a constant and natural sense of gratitude and appreciation for all the people in your life. This is an incredibly magnetic and attractive quality. When you start looking for things to be thankful for, you end up attracting even more favors and more friends. Give and you shall receive.”
Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!