The Lost Art of the Thank You Note

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A thank you note is a talisman of appreciation for another person. Simple, yet powerful .

In my classroom, we focus on gratitude by practicing the art of the handwritten note. So humble, such clout, the letter of thanks in a person's own hand.

I require students to master friendly letter form. They protest. They already thanked the field trip drivers in person. The museum docent was just doing her job. The person who organized the speech tournament was paid. But the guest speaker spent a couple hours preparing his presentation, woke up early, put on special clothes, drove 30 minutes, gave up a morning for us. We honor his gift by spending five minutes penning words of thanks. The kids can't figure out a good objection to this argument, so they dutifully write their notes.

Ah, and the letters need to be done with care. The writing straight, no crossed-out mistakes, the word "sincerely" spelled correctly. No binder paper, but real cards. Written in ink, with more than just the words "thank you," and including a few original details to make the gratitude feel personal.

The thoughtful gesture of a handwritten thank you radiates goodwill both directions. And it packs a wallop.


A dad comes to pick up his son and mentions how impressed he was to get written thank you's. The visiting librarian calls to say she has hung all the notes in her kitchen. The tournament organizer mentions his delight with our cards in the competition newsletter. My students beam.

A card is much more powerful than a text, an email, a voice message. It has presence. We hardly register the computer-generated thanks sent by charities who have received our donations. A text or an email is lost in the crowd of other messages zapped at us.

But in the anonymous mess of junk mail that arrives daily through the mail slot, a small envelope of thick creamy paper, addressed by hand, a real stamp in the corner --- this catches our eye. We slit the seal and feel attention, care, reciprocal generosity. Magic.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander lives in San Raphael.