What is the Point of a Thank-You?

While perusing the internet last week, I encountered a discussion about thank-you notes (on the inimitable Reddit). It was a suggestion that parents teach kids to write thank-you notes for their gifts, to foster a spirit of gratefulness when the kids are small.

It seemed pretty facile to me: write thank you notes, it’s polite. Easy enough, right?

And yet the responses to this suggestion were overwhelmingly “NOPE.”

Commenters went on and on about how it was just teaching kids to lie, how it was an out-of-date custom, how it’s just a form of parental extortion (write the note OR ELSE!), how nobody likes receiving those annoying formulaic notes anyhow, and can’t you just tell someone you liked their gift? Or, better yet, just keep sending presents and don’t you worry about whether or not I even liked it. Gimmie.

I was raised in a write-your-note-or-else house, and I’ve been pretty well indoctrinated. When I met my now-husband’s parents for the second time, they commented on how I’d written them thank-you notes…and how it made them feel guilty for not doing them. After writing the heap of notes for my wedding gifts, I’ve even developed a bit of a reputation as a writer of “great thank-you notes” (gee, exactly what I want to be known for).

So I fall pretty hard on the thank-you-note-writing side of the line.

I found myself wondering: am I making everyone uncomfortable by sending these notes, these notes I have been writing because I was taught that it was just the done thing, that I was a rude and ungrateful brat if I didn’t?

I took a poll of some friends and got a mixed bag: definitely for some occasions a note is welcome, getting mail that isn’t a bill is a nice thing, and a few “oops, I totally should have written that one.”

I admit one of the prime reasons I write thank-you notes is because I love getting mail. Physical mail, I heart you. I’m always thrilled to get something interested, something unexpected. It’s like mini-Christmas, every day of the year. (I seriously have a Birchbox just because I like to get the mail…)

I guess I agree with some of the complaints in the no-thank-you side: I think it’s weird when I get hand-written, formulaic thank-you notes from my mom via post office when I see her every week. And I think writing thank-you notes after a funeral gift is ridiculous and unfairly burdensome on the mourning, who have enough going on. I hate getting the literal fill-in-the-blank notes from little kids–or worse, the really-you’re-too-old-for-this teens (“Dear M.E., Thank you for the _____ I really loved it! Signed, Annoying Teenager”).

But all in all, I’m in favor of the thank-you note. Particularly because I don’t have much opportunity to see many of my friends and family right now; we live pretty far apart and see each other maybe once a year. The note is a way of saying “hey, you’re sweet to remember me! I got your gift! Also, I miss you.”

If it makes me outdated to like that, I guess I’m just going to have to be a bit musty, I suppose.

Where do you fall on thank-you notes: lovely courtesy or forced false gratitude?


Filed under Uncategorized, writing

7 responses to “What is the Point of a Thank-You?

  1. I always appreciated your thank you notes. I never knew you got such blow back from writing them.

    • Oh yeah, I’ve definitely been told I’m weird for doing them. But it is also the reason i made my best friend in elementary school (i wrote her a thank-you note, she wrote me a thank-you for my thank-you, boom! Friends.)

  2. I also grew up in the firm “Thank You Note or Else Camp” and I genuinely believe in the importance of the thank you note. As you said, it isn’t necessary in every situation, but I find it goes a long way in making people feel appreciated 🙂

  3. Aunt T

    Megan, this is an excellent time to tell you we truly appreciate your thank-you notes. The fact that you actually take the time to find a card, a pen, a stamp, sit down and write a thoughtful message to us, personally, always makes our day. Too often many we send things that are never acknowledged; that we wonder if they ended up in some black hole in outer space. Keep it up, you’re doing the “write” thing, pardon the pun.

  4. Aunt T

    My pleasure! ❤

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