“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
my mum is well-known for writing thank you notes. She keeps a stash of cards, postcards and pretty paper at the ready in a basket in the kitchen. she scribes adroitly with her left hand, never smudging the ink or letting her prose run away from her. the thank you letters and cards that she has posted to me over the years are some of my most precious possessions, especially as a few months ago the family home burned down and my mum lost the hundreds of cards and letters that had been sent to her. But that’s a story for another time…
In her book The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication. Margaret Shepherd writes that "The handwritten note has been around for hundreds of years, and it's not going to die out just because some of it's everyday functions have been taken over by e-mail and voicemail. adapting to the needs of every fresh generation, it continues to connect people...A note in the mail brightens a dreary landscape of junk mail, form letters and prefabricated greeting cards and it shines through a virtual blizzard of abrupt digital memos and disembodied voice chat."
Of course there is a legitimate place for texting and voice messages and Face Time and sending endless photos to each other via Whats App; for online shopping and for sharing snippets of our world through tiny squares on a screen. The family chats we have with relatives across the globe are special environments and the online relationships I have are healthy and stimulating.
But can you sense the ever-stronger shift towards the more tangible and long-lasting nature of the written text? I sell beautiful greeting cards EVERY WEEK, and trust that for many of you reading this, writing is in fact a pleasure and finding time to express yourself in writing is important to you. You know the power of receiving a handwritten card and the pleasure that comes from sending one.
And so I have been thinking about the 'thank you note'. Although in some cultures, it's considered far too formal to write a thank you note, it's something I have always loved to do, in imitation of my mama (and Eleanor Roosevelt, who was renowned for sending notes to two or three people each day!). for those of you who might be struggling with this and who feel that you need to start a new habit, read on...you might find some helpful tips.
have a gratitude attitude and notice things to be thankful for
At times, we have to admit that we don't know what we are saying thank you for, or to whom. We rush between people and activities and hardly stop to think about what has just happened. Did I have a good time? Where was I last Friday? when did I last see that friend?
we know that Reflecting on the happiness, comfort and gratitude we found in a moment is much healthier than always looking ahead for the next emotional high. we can't live in a contented way if we aren't present, absorbed in the moment.
When I reviewed the book be great, be grateful , I was struck with how ungrateful I had become. Life was whooshing by and I was reminded that we need to invite gratitude into our lives. Gratitude is connected with grace, which is connected to showing honour and dignity to others. It's not about you. Worry specialist Gabrielle Treanor, in her podcast, Pressing Pause: The life-changing power of feeling grateful has some fantastic suggestions for developing gratitude: she encourages that we read out a letter of thanks and see how it makes us feel. "Expressing thanks on a regular basis trains you to look outside of yourself, to be able to see a more colourful picture of a stressful event rather than just black and white, negative or positive... you can't feel a positive emotion at the same time as a negative one." She stresses the importance of regular practice. developing good habits takes time; Perhaps journalling would help? Start the day listing a few things to be grateful for, either on paper or mentally. Think of people who have helped you to be a better version of yourself and why. Dig deep. get mushy. feel.
Then, take it one step further, and tell those people why you are grateful for them in a thank you note that they can touch and keep and look back on in years to come.
how to write a thank you note
at times , we acknowledge that a written note would be more appropriate than a text or a quick tag on instagram, but we freeze with fear about not just what to say, but how to arrange our words on the page and how to start and finish a card. the very logistics of writing.
You may think this is obvious stuff. hopefully it is. but if you have found yourself with a mental block about sharing your gratitude, read through these simple points and be inspired to send those thank you notes.
- the first rather fun step is to find a beautiful card. i prefer cards that are plain inside with no pre-printed message that forces me to squish my handwriting around swirly sentiments. I like the opportunity that a blank page offers. we have stocked some lovely designs - have a look in the paper goods section of the shop.
- take your card and find a peaceful place to write. I went through a phase of writing to friends from the library. write when the kids are in bed; write first thing in the morning. do not write whilst stuck under a sweaty armpit on the tube. Your writing will be wonky and it will show that you have rushed it.
- choose a reliable pen. will it smudge? will it run out half-way through scribbling? glitter pens are often a good idea to highlight your key words (or is that just me?!).
- practice your handwriting, especially if like me your writing is like hieroglyphics. my old flatmate used to write out her thank-you cards in draft in a notepad or in her journal and i was always impressed that she went to this much trouble to make her handwriting look so neat and tidy, and her words were always weighty with meaning. Our friendship deepened through letter writing, and we are still in the habit of writing to each other twenty years later.
- write the address on the envelope before you do anything else - if you need to ask your friend for their address, so be it. We just don't seem to own address books anymore! if you already have a stamp, slap it on the envelope in the top right-hand corner. half the problem with sending a thank you card is actually sending the card. I have an unhealthy stack of half-written addresses, so it's good to get this bit done first.
- be brave and say what you really, REALLY mean. When my brother died almost a year ago, people close to him told me that they wished they'd COMMUNICATED their appreciation for him and not held back from expressing their emotions. It had a profound effect on me. tell people what you really think of them. why you love them. why you needed that time with them or why that gift they gave you meant so much. never underestimate the power of telling people how much they are loved. It is possibly the thing that will get them through that day.
- Keep a list of the cards you send. This might sound a step too far, but I have started to note when I write to people and why I wrote to them. This is in it's own way a gratitude journal. It also helps forgetful people like me to keep a track of what I send to whom!
tHEY ARE MY TIPS. dO YOU HAVE ANY TO SHARE?