Art of thanks

What happened to the fine art of writing thank you notes?

I have vivid memories of my mother making very detailed lists on Christmas morning of who got what from whom. She would then pass the lists out to my sister and I with a cheery “Remember to write your thank you cards as soon as possible!”
But much to my mother’s chagrin, we never managed to write a single thank you note. We would think about it, maybe even start one, but never follow it through to completion.
Recently I received a bursary from the wonderful people at financial aid. Having gone through this process before, I know proper etiquette rules state that I should respond promptly with a short, but well thought-out thank you note. When I inquired at the office about the address to send the note, I was met with some surprised looks.
Apparently getting students to write the appropriate thank you note has proven to be a tricky task. That got me thinking: what happened to the fine art of writing thank you notes? I know they still sell thank you cards in the greeting card aisle, but when was the last time anyone bought one and actually used it for its intended purpose?
Writing a proper thank you note is a formality of our antiquated past. Knowing when and how to write a good thank you message was proper etiquette.
Up until the 1960s, etiquette was a required subject taught in most schools across North American and Britain. These classes would teach children, in both elementary and high school levels of study, how to properly kneel at the altar, which fork was for what and how to write proper letters. Children learned that the timing of a thank you note was the difference between merely following etiquette rules and having a high degree of class.
But our society just isn’t that formal anymore.
The social rules of today include unwritten and relatively culturally learned social graces that reflect our digital identities. There are, for example, social rules about when it is and when is not appropriate to friend someone on Facebook. But when it comes to formally saying thank you, very few people know the rules about when or how to say it.
According to etiquette specialists, a thank you note is absolutely required in the following major life events:
– Bridal shower or baby shower gifts
– Holiday, birthday, Bar/Bat mitzvah, graduation and housewarming gifts
– Sympathy letters, flowers, mass cards or donations made in the deceased’s name
It may seem obvious to point this out, but a formal thank you note should not be 140 characters or less, and should be done by hand. Letters in your own handwriting are personal; they show you are genuinely grateful for something.
Yet the art of writing a thank you note has fallen to the wayside because we are so used to communicating online. The problem is that online communication lacks a human quality, even if you use every emoticon you can find. Expressing genuine gratitude is inherently an incredibly personal thing to do.
When you are really thankful, an email or (God forbid) a tweet just won’t cut it.
So, I dare you—each and every one of you—to sit down and write a thank you card to someone who has recently done or said something that meant a lot to you. Take the time to say thank you and show that person you appreciate what they did for you.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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