January 02, 2008

Thank you cards: the ultimate in creative writing

[By Mary]

According to the psychologists, one of the keys to happiness is gratitude. Gratitude is not only good for society, but is also good for your mental and physical health.

How can you cultivate more gratitude, and thus more health and happiness, in your life?

Don't ask me. Nobody has sent in an Ask Cranky Fitness question on that topic.

Or rather, check back later and ask on a different day. Because this is the season for Thank You cards, which could be genuine expressions of gratitude... but usually aren't.

Really, what can you say?

How many times can you write "thank you very much, that was a very thoughtful gift" before gagging?

There are basic instructions on how to write a thank you card. I love the way these all start with 'get a blank piece of paper.' Presumably the authors thought you might not know it's not the time to recycle an old shopping list or something like that? But they don't tell me what I need to know, which is how to lie gracefully.

I don't want to hurt people's feelings. After all, no matter how awful it seems from my perspective, they took the time and trouble to go out and buy it, wrap it, mail it to me. I do appreciate the effort and the thought, but saying so makes people realize that you don't love the gift, and their feelings get hurt. There's got to be some kind of middle ground between honesty and hypocrisy.

One article on writing thank you notes advises against lying. Find something nice to say about the gift. "There's always some truth to be extracted." (The writer did suggest using small note cards.) That's where I'm stuck. I know people who practice gratitude tend to be more optimistic and have healthier immune systems, but how do I practice gratitude with sincerity?

I guess what I need is a book of Miss Manners sample notes for different situations.

  • What kind of thank you card do you write when someone gives you a really expensive present and all you got them was some cheesy, hokey kind of a joke gift?
  • Or when you went through a lot of trouble, stood in line and fought crowds to get someone the perfect gift and they gave you a second-hand toothpick container?
  • And how on earth can you avoid sounding completely insincere when thanking someone for a gift that you'd have paid good money never to have opened? One co-worker got a calendar for Christmas. Each month had a different picture of a scenic location -- and in the foreground of each picture was a close-up of a pile of dog crap. That was the point of the whole calendar. This is not the kind of gift you can automatically assume everyone will love.

All right, I have to ask. How do you solve this problem of writing a thank you card for something you can't honestly say you appreciate? I can't be the first person to wrestle with this situation.

I wrote the above and then I went and read Leah's blog post about gratitude. I'm going to go back and tackle those Thank You cards again. There's so much to be thankful about; I can find something positive to say about these presents.


  1. What about when someone gives you a gift and it is so out of character for them to give you that type of gift and you are not sure if they meant it as a serious gift or a joke gift and so you don't know how you should really word the note inside the thank you card?!?!?

    And...what if you have trouble with writing run-on sentences?

  2. Oooh, Holly, that's a category I hadn't even considered. I think in a situation like that run-on sentences might actually prove a benefit: by the time the giver makes it through the entire sentence, they're usually a bit lost, which means they're probably not sure whether you're thanking them in jest or seriously. Definitely the sneaky solution ;)

  3. My mom made my sister and I sit down and write thank-you notes for any gift or toy we got BEFORE we were allowed to play with it. Fortunately or unfortunately, it stuck. I can write the crap out of a thank you card, and my proudest one was written for something that I wasn't even really sure what it was. My expert answer to all of your dilemmas? Lie. Forget about those other people. Just lie. I don't think it hurts to tell a white lie to make someone feel good for thinking of you. If it's the thought that counts for the gift, then I think the same applies to the note. Of course, I'm pretty convinced I'm going to hell, so you know, grain of salt and all.

  4. Cara, I'll take your advice with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila. :)
    Nevertheless, I think you have the right idea -- get it done asap. In my experience, if I don't get the thank you cards done right away, they fester in a To Do limbo and merely add to my guilt quotient, which frankly is quite high enough already thankyouverymuch.

  5. This question has absolutely nothing to do with gratitude, but I have a health related question for your column. Where can I email it???

    -- P

  6. penelope, please tell your human/secretary to direct all email inquiries to
    crabbymcslacker AT gmail.com

    That way, Crabby can handle the email and I can kick back and relax :)

  7. On the dog poop calendar I think I'd have to be a little bit snarky and say something like "I appreciate how much careful thought you must have put into choosing such a unique gift" so they could wonder if I was maybe noting that they apparently had sh*t for brains. BUT, I would certainly either 1) know exactly where I stood with that coworker or 2) know without a doubt that they really are totally whacked.
    But generally I feel that yes, one can usually find something honestly nice to say about a gift.
    If it's a really big whopping gift, you can always write that you are speechless with gratitude, and that you don't know what to say except "Thank You!". Especially if you are the one that gave *them* the second hand toothpick holder... But next year it will balance out, you'll get them the super gift, they'll get you the pizza slicer.

  8. Thank you for the mention and it's good to know I've been an influence. If you run out of things to say to in your thank you notes, just write Thank You and sign your name.

  9. Gee, the Bag Lady should send this post to the young couple who STILL haven't sent her a thank-you card for the wedding gift she gave them back in August! Maybe that is what the delay is - they are speechless with gratitude...
    Seriously, if you are the least bit unsure what to say, a simple Thank you is sufficient.
    The Bag Lady thought that perhaps thank-you cards were out of style (judging from the number of cards she has received in recent months for wedding and baby gifts...)

  10. I love cards...any kind. But thank you cards are indeed the best in my mind...but not so much for stuff as for just thanking people for their help & friendship.
    I was reminded of this this christmas when (fuelled by a whim of festive cheeriness) I bought some blank cards and just wrote some personalised little kind notes in them to some coworkers to just thank them for being them and their help over the year...and ALL of them were very touched by them. I didn't think it was such a big deal myself, but I guess hearing back from people a simple "thanks" and "you're cool you know" is a good thing. I know I like hearing it.
    Of course, having said that...cards for gifts (if it's not older family) seems to slip by...I still haven't sent out thank you notes for all mour wedding gifts...and we were married 7 years ago. Heh heh...

  11. This card should do the trick :-)

    Dr. J


  12. Someone once told me the nicest gift you could give to an old teacher is to write them a letter thanking them for something they'd taught you that you still remember.

    Of course, I'd be afraid that the teacher would scratch her head and say 'who is this Mary woman, anyway?'

    I think gratitude is closely linked to forgiveness, one of those practices that helps you even if it doesn't help the receiver. Something about lowering blood pressure, as well as boosting the immune system. See, Crabby? This is a health post... sorta...

    On the other hand, I could always try Dr. J's approach ;)

  13. Yeah, I agree with Cara. If you can't find ANYTHING nice to say about a gift, just pretend you did. (Holly, I totally laughed at your comment though!)

  14. Like Cara, I was forced to write thank you notes as a kid, and now I'm really thankful (ha!) that my mum pushed it. I'm one of few people in my family and social circles who actually writes them, so I stand out. ;)

  15. We were taught (forced) to write thank you notes as kids as well. Cara has the right of it. Lie! If you have to write out the nasty sarcastic version first, do so, just don't send the wrong one!
    Oh, take the grain of salt and shot of tequila after the notes are written. That way the lies won't be too outrageous!

  16. My boyfriend writes TY's for EVERYTHING he recieves...I find it hilarious and an act in futility. However, he grew up in the South, and they're all about that graciousness stuff, so I really can't make too much fun of him. But for me, I only write them if it's for a big something (i.e. graduation, wedding, death, etc)not for birthdays or Christmas or random gifts...That being said, in the proffessional world, you MUST write them for everything and that is really where the butt kissing comes in handy...Or when you want to squeeze the most money out of Gramma and Grampa for the next occasion...Errr, I mean...Love them??

  17. One thing about writing thank yous... I just got several letters from various relatives thanking me as well. Might have started a trend :)

  18. Having just arrived home after a couple of days traveling on roads that will soon be facing blizzards, closures, and hurricane-force winds, I'm finding myself very grateful for our unintentional good timing!

    But back on topic, I gotta say, I myself rarely send presents or write thank you notes. I totally admire all of you who do! But I mostly exchange gifts in person with nearby relatives, and due to being a crotchety person rarely receive any gifts in the mail. So that's my excuse for hardly ever writing any thank you notes.

    I should, however, write them after attending a wonderful dinner party or staying at someone's house. Instead, it tends to be an email, which I know is not the same.

  19. I am a hard-core thank-you writer. If I don't write thank-yous for birthday gifts, xmas gifts, etc, I truly believe my mother will teleport from Florida -POOF!- and nag me to death. I do 'em right away.

    I've never had a problem with writing notes. If the gift was a bit of a misfire, I just write "Thank you for thinking of me!" Otherwise, I try to say a few specific things that I really like about the gift - that I love the color, that I look forward to using it, the fit is flattering, it made me laugh, etc. I'm pretty lucky, my friends and family don't usually have misfires.


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