Saying “Thank you”

Message in the bottle
Message in the bottle (Photo credit:

A lovely card arrived this week for my husband, a thank-you note (real paper, lovely image, hand-written in pen) from a young female photographer whose work he had commissioned for a New York Times photo essay.

If you think thank-you notes — no, not thank you tweets or emails — are passe, think again.

If you really want to make an impression, consider the quaint, old-fashioned elegance of writing, stamping and mailing a thank-you note.

Whenever I leave home for a few days or longer, I carry personal stationery and some thank-you cards with me, so I never have an excuse not to write a thank-you note, to someone who hosted me for dinner or helped with my book or gave me a work tip.

Even U.S. President Barack Obama was recently chastised by Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist, for being insufficiently grateful:

Stories abound of big donors who stopped giving as much or working as hard because Obama never reached out, either with a Clinton-esque warm bath of attention or Romney-esque weekend love fests and Israeli-style jaunts; of celebrities who gave concerts for his campaigns and never received thank-you notes or even his full attention during the performance; of public servants upset because they knocked themselves out at the president’s request and never got a pat on the back; of V.I.P.’s disappointed to get pictures of themselves with the president with the customary signature withheld; of politicians disaffected by the president’s penchant for not letting members of Congress or local pols stand on stage with him when he’s speaking in their state (they often watch from the audience and sometimes have to lobby just to get a shout-out); of power brokers, local and national, who felt that the president insulted them by never seeking their advice or asking them to come to the White House or ride along in the limo for a schmooze.

Care and feeding has been outsourced to Joe Biden, who loves it, but it doesn’t build the same kind of loyalty as when the president does it.

“He comes from the neediest profession of all, except for acting, but he is not needy and he doesn’t fully understand the neediness of others; it’s an abstraction to him,” says Jonathan Alter, who wrote “The Promise” about Obama’s first year in office and is working on a sequel. “He’s not an ungracious person, but he can be guilty of ingratitude. It’s not a politically smart way for him to operate.

I say “thank you” a lot.

And mean it.

I say it to my husband, several times a day — for cooking dinner, or sweeping the balcony or just being a loving and devoted partner. We will not be sharing life forever, so better to voice my gratitude to him while I can.

A man whose vision changed my life, by creating a journalism fellowship I did in Paris at 25, died November 27, 1986. I found out when I returned to the Montreal Gazette newsroom, where I was then a feature writer, and burst into tears when the operator handed me the message.

In June 2007, I finally had the chance to thank him, by traveling to the small Breton town of Concarneau. I searched for his grave in vain for an hour, in broiling heat, before asking the guard to show it to me. I sat beside his stone and kept him company. I wanted to pay my respects, to thank him for the life he helped make possible for me.

Years ago, a former journalism student of mine — she had been very beautiful and lazy, often coasting, as she knew she could, on her looks and charm — sent me a thank-you note, finally understanding and grateful for why I’d been so tough and demanding as her teacher. She now had a very good journalism job, one that set the bar much higher than she’d expected, and she now saw why I’d been such a hard-ass, trying to prep them all for unforgiving editors, like the ones I’ve always had.

That note meant a lot!

Every day someone  — the guy making your deli sandwich or doing your dry-cleaning or the woman who drives your bus this morning — is making our lives a little better. Maybe it’s a friend, neighbor, relative, professor or teacher who, even by their words or actions a decade or so ago, did or said something that smoothed our path or soothed our souls.

We need to say thank you.

Here’s a lovely blog post recently featured on Freshly Pressed by a woman, now a teacher, who wrote to thank one of her early teachers — who gave her a D on a paper.

I’ve now been to a few funerals, and far more than I’d like. It’s too easy to eulogize the dead, heaping them with praise and thanksgiving.

Do it today.

168 thoughts on “Saying “Thank you”

  1. Reminds me of why my Dad made me write thank you notes after every big event in my life: saying “thank you” is important.
    By the way, your book came in for me at the library. I’ll pick it up this weekend, most likely.

    1. Nahed Omer

      Thank u is simply 2 words that has great meaning.

      We all have to know where and when to say it.

      One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind. ~Malayan Proverb

  2. Nemesis

    When it comes to Manners… you just can’t beat… OldSkool.

    Flowers and lunch would figure prominently too, of course [MadMen luncheons!]. Well. It was Manhattan… and the GoGo 80’s.

  3. I agree. One of my best friend’s recently helped me with some career advice when I was tormented and torn, freely giving advice and her support as she always does so unselfishly. I was thankful. So I wrote her a note to tell her so, and sent it via snail mail. She then thanked me for my thank you card!, saying it made her feel special. I told her she IS special. Taking the time and effort to send a note by mail underscores her importance to me in my life. And so nice to receive something by post that isn’t a bill, a flyer, or direct mail! 🙂

    1. So good to hear from you here…I so enjoy your blog!

      I love that you took action. It’s so easy to think nice thoughts about someone, but when it’s concretized it’s very special. I keep old cards like this and really treasure them.

      Getting a real card or letter is now so rare. Good for you!

      1. Likewise! I enjoy your writings as well…

        Another personal mandate I’ve recently committed to is sending a condolence card to anyone in my life who has lost someone close to them. When my dad passed not quite two years ago, I was deeply moved and supported by the notes I received. I didn’t know how powerful a gesture that can be until I went through it.

      2. I’m sorry for your loss.

        Nothing replaces a father, but knowing others love you and loved him is comforting. Although it is NOT comparable, when my dog died in 1996 (and I was barely a year past my divorce) a friend (the same one who wrote me the thank you note) sent a beautiful hand made card with a drawing of (!) my dog with wings. Sounds silly, maybe. But to know someone knew my sadness and acknowledged it…

  4. I’ve always been grateful to my mother for teaching me the importance of writing thank you notes. In crafting a handwritten note, I choose my words more carefully and give more consideration to the feeling I want to convey than I do in an email. I also like to send personal notes of congratulations when someone I know (whether personally or professionally) does something worthy of recognition. Sometimes an unexpected “attaboy” can make all the difference between a good day and a bad day.

    1. Yay for moms! My mother drilled it into me as well. (I wonder if Dads do as well.)

      Attaboys are the best…I didn’t know that word til I dated a guy from IBM (so not me!) who taught it to me. Now I keep an attaboy file in my computer with emails like this and if I’m having a horrible day or week, they’re there to cheer me up again.

      You’re doing a wonderful thing. I admire it!

  5. jkgrummons90

    I relate to this so well, I was always told growing up to write thank you cards after each major gathering and holiday. And I am like you, constantly saying thank you 🙂

    1. I think it’s better to say it too often than not enough. I’m amazed (and annoyed) at people who seem to simply expect kindness or good behavior and swan past as though it’s normal/nothing. I wish!

  6. I agree! Thank you’s and thank you notes are certainly underrrated. However, in the future I see thank you emails, tweets and texts taking over, as they are generally taking over every other aspect of communication!

  7. I loved this. THANK YOU for writing it. My parents taught me to say please and thank you, and to send heartfelt thank you cards. This is something, as a teacher, I am diligently trying to pass on to my students. When I have them in my classroom for eight hours a day, it becomes my responsibility to teach them more than just content English.
    Your final point is also an eyeopener. Graciousness is key to our happiness, and one thing I have learned over the years is that achieving happiness is not a selfish goal; we need to be reminded every once and a while that we affect the people in our lives (just as you have by sharing this piece), and it is imperative that we take hold of those moments when we can affect someone in a positive way by showing them how much they are appreciated.

    1. It was a pretty odd decision to visit my mentor’s grave but there was never a doubt how much his vision of me and faith in me (as you have with some of your students) changed my life forever. How could I not be forever grateful and want to express it, even at his grave?

  8. Thanks, this is a very thought provoking post. Especially in the electronic world of today.

    For us it is so easy to just fire off an e-mail to say thank you. For me, I would probably fall off of my chair if I received a handwritten Thank You Note from one of my students. But then again, I teach engineers in a corporate environment.

    But, I do appreciate the little thank you gifts that I will occasionally receive. One of my students sends me a calendar every year, and I can always count on a few others to bring me something special from their State or Country when they come to class.

  9. I am so glad you showed up on Freshly Pressed so I could read this wonderful blog! My mother-n-law who is now in her eighties has ALWAYS written a personal thank you note in her beautiful cursive writing. It is always such a rewarding pleasure to receive a note from her after she has had a visit, a dinner and a small gift. I will show her blog to you and let her know she has always been on the right track!

  10. I agree wholeheartedly. People tend to forget the value of a simple handwritten note. I will say that in the veterinary field (my profession), clients are very generous in writing thank you notes…maybe that’s only because my patients can’t write? Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  11. Thank you is the first word (or maybe only word I end up learning) in any language I want to learn when visiting a new country. I may not be able to communicate well, but I want them to know I am grateful and also trying in their culture. I am a teacher and I try to encourage my students to say thanks to anyone who helps them… including the cleaners, bus drivers… who usually go unnoticed and under apprecaited (especailly in an international school where their pay is low).
    I started a tradition whenever a parent helps us in class, or on a trip we make a thank you card and everyone signs it. The parents often say, or email their thanks and exclaim how they enjoyed getting the card. We all love mail and thank yous are even better because they make you feel valued.

    1. This is such an important and powerful lesson you’re teaching — to thank those who may feel (and by treated as less than) less important. I worked retail PT for 27 months and people can be shockingly rude and dismissive to those they assume their social inferiors. None of us is inferior. Some earn less than others. Big difference.

      1. Exactly! They are still people and have feelings. I live by the rule to treat others how you want to be treated. My husband and I always say hello to the guards at our building and I smile at the street sweepers because often they are not even acknowledged for that reason… lower social status. (we live and work in China going into our third year).
        There is a great book for kids about ‘filling buckets’ and to fill someone’s bucket could be as simple as saying thank you. It is a great way to get dialogue going and the rest needs to be done through actions. I always pratise what I preach 🙂

  12. Very well done. My parents taught me early on about the importance of “please” and “thank you”. The simplest shows of gratitude are often the ones with highest mileage in our hearts. Very well done, I enjoyed the read.

  13. yes, i agree that thank you is really important. as for my case i say thank you like, most of the time. even for the simplest things that people do to help me. i think that saying thank you more often would at least make people feel good of themselves and that we’d appreciate what they’ve done for us.

  14. What a wonderful post. I’ve been trying to re-popularize the lost art of letter and thank you note writing. When I write thank you notes I feel good; and when I receive them in the mail, it is such a delight! (although I never expect the thank you notes and cards) Thanking people has been one of my soapbox topics for years – so thanks for writing this! 🙂

  15. It is a simple fact that, the more thankful we are to other people and for the positive things we have in our lives. the more blessings we experience. We don’t do it for that reason, but it’s true. Also, think of how much of a difference you can make to others simply by using these two words. Thank you so much for this well-written article and excellent reminder : )

  16. I was recommended this blog by my cousin. I’m not certain whether or not this submit is written through him as nobody else understand such unique about my difficulty. You are incredible! Thanks!

  17. Nothing can replace the intimacy of a handwritten note or letter. I also bring ‘thank you’ notes when I travel; often I leave the envelope in a cubbord or linen closet so the recipient has a little surprise waitin for them.

  18. It seems we definitely need the reminder these days to be more courteous and to take a few minutes to acknowledge a courtesy or helping hand we’ve received. It’s very easy to think we *should* have done something, but then no one knows our intentions and the feeling is not expressed.
    Congrats on the Freshly Pressed as well. 🙂

  19. I’m a bit of an obsessive Thank You note sender. I get excited choosing out pretty thank you cards whenever I visit a stationary store… Even if I have no one in particular to thank at the moment. I think it’s a female thing because my husband thinks I’m rather cheesy making use of my penmanship to relay appreciation. The U.S. presidents probably have the same mind set as he does. Leave the etiquette to us ladies. 🙂

    1. I have a whole pile of lovely stationery and cards ready at all times. Good for you! It’s too easy to say “Oh, I don’t have anything to send.” With all due respect, your husband’s being a curmudgeon. Would he truly not appreciate a thank you card?

  20. My adult children and I were invited out to dinner and a week later, I received an email from the host, praising me on having raised such thoughtful and polite children: each had sent her own, private thank-you note.
    Was I thrilled? Absolutely! It took me ages to drill that into their heads when they were younger.
    All that remains is for me to thank you for this post, reminding me that there are thoughtful and grateful people in the world.

  21. Thanks for the reminder. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily rigamarole, we sometimes forget how much a simple thank you can do. I recently read a book – 365 Thank You’s by John Kralik. The author was at a very low point in life and received a thank you note that set him on the path to writing one thank you note everyday for a year. This process completely changed his life in unexpected and profound ways. It made me want to have a year of thank you’s as well. Your post has also brought the need for thank you’s to light. I guess it’s time to get some stationary. Thank you! – Rene

  22. Wonderful, Caitlin. A good reminder for us to not take anything for granted and how those two little words, “Thank you,” can mean the world to someone. Also, it called to mind how less often people take the time to write a thank you card, me included. Occasionally, I receive a little note and it makes all the difference to know someone took the time to think about me. It’s a wonderful gesture and doesn’t take much time.

  23. Simply Om

    Lovely post. One of my favourite things to do as a child was to peruse a store called “Happy Hour” which was wall to wall stationary. My mother taught us at a very young age, the importance of gratitude, and “Thank You” notes are something I continue to send to this day.

  24. Yes! My son was recently excited to see his thank you note stuck to my parents’ refrigerator when we visited. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving: first the gift meant a lot to him, then the thank you note meant a lot to them, and then seeing his work on the note meant a lot to him! At this rate, we will last until next year’s birthday!

  25. Reblogged this on My Etch-A-Sketch Life and commented:
    I enjoyed this post. I notice more that as we get more in technology the finer points of good manners and etiquette seem to be falling behind. It’s so easy not to keep up with people’s addresses anymore, it’s an email or cell number to say thanks. I was very good at this a few years ago with my hand written notes but have gotten lazy recently. I will make that effort going forward to be better, because it’s important to let those you care about know how truly thankful you are!

  26. It is sad that people have to be reminded of the importance of gratitude. My daily mission is to show appreciation. Not only for the good people do for me, but for the difficulties they placed in my path. Those are the people I am most grateful for.

  27. What a great post! I feel warm and fuzzy when someone sends a real thank you note. This is also a good reminder for me to be mindful of my thank yous. You know what kind of thank yous I miss? The thank-you-wave to the driver who just let you into her crowded lane. It seems that those are few and far between these days.

  28. missknowall

    You are right. We never forget to complain if we don’t like something, but when everything works out smooth, we suddenly take it for granted. And we should not. We should remind ourselves that we could get a worse service, or a mean treatment by the person we forget to thank. Though, nowadays, I fear, some look at people who write hand written cards like on emotional freaks or something of that sort…But it defiantly should not stop us from thanking. So, thank you for a marvelous post (: — Cheers

      1. missknowall

        Oh,not. For bothering to express it handwritten. I think most people the an email as a sufficient form.

  29. I also believe in ‘thank you‘, and am in my opinion good with saying it. How ever, I have never send a thank you- note. Thanks to your post, I am really looking forward to composing my first one! 🙂

  30. Yes, saying thank you makes a massive difference. That’s a very interesting grab about Obama. I’ve heard it said over and over that in terms of philanthropy there are only two rules: ask politely; and say thank you.

    I once had a boss who got all 200 of his employees together and said, ‘Look, if you get an email, no matter what it says, just write back and say thank you – it takes two seconds and shows that you read what you’ve been sent and appreciate the correspondence’. He was really angry about it! And so he should, I think.

    But you go further and suggest we should write handwritten notes of appreciation, perhaps even a post-card. It’s a great idea.

    1. How else can we know for sure we are appreciated? Words are cheap, God knows. But the extra attention it takes to choose a nice card, write a thoughtful message and have it delivered makes very clear how much (more) this act meant to us. I may be very old school, but I love it when even dinner guests (as they have and I do) drop a hand-written note of thanks.

  31. Sarah

    When I returned from a couple of years overseas on a scholarship, I dropped by to see one of my favorite professors. I wondered if his office had moved, as his name was no longer by the door. It turned out he’d died of cancer, the kind that gets diagnosed one week and kills within three months. I immediately went to see the other professors I’d wanted to visit to make sure they all knew I was grateful for their help. I’d have done it anyway, but that death really drove the point home.

    Nice post, glad you were FP!

  32. I love technology. It’s been a great way to keep in touch with people. But handwritten letters, notes, and thank-you’s are so much more personal and real. I’m a stationery collector, of sorts. I buy stationery wherever I travel, and more often than not at my local Papyrus store. I even consider the type of stamp I’m putting on the envelope, to make sure it is topic appropriate. Thank you for the post! I would send you a handwritten note, if only I had your address… 🙂

  33. The Perfectly Imperfect One

    I am a thank you note through the mail person. Two days after I got married, I wrote every guest and gift giver a personal and heartfelt thank you note. I also work for the post office, so I know how much getting a piece of mail in your mailbox that is not a bill can mean to a person.

  34. antsjuices

    Simple graciousness has all but vanished from our society – and the analogy of the President being an ungrateful boor certainly comes as no surprise and typifies the lack of attention to kindness in our society. Thank you for trying to inject some life back into the matter.

  35. Great post! I agree, a simple “thank you” goes a long way.
    I think we tend to forget to thank those who are closest to us; mom, dad, siblings, etc. In the past I’ve been guilty of sometimes expecting those closest to me to just do me a favor because they’re my family. While I went about my day thanking every other person; the clerk at the convenience store, the bank teller, a guy at Home Depot. I used to forget to thank the people who mattered most in my life. I’m glad I realized my faux paus and have learned to not take my loved ones for granted. After graduating from college I even wrote thank you cards to my parents and siblings for their support and love throughout my life.

    1. It’s great you realized that. Some people are lucky enough to have a supportive family, so that feels “normal” and baseline. It’s not for many of us. I doubt anyone every regrets the thanks they offer, but the ones they do not.

  36. Beautiful write-up. It is a dying art, the ability to simply say a thank you verbally or written. It wasn’t anything I was brought up with and yet each day every day every moment I have the opportunity I show gratitude. I now live abroad and showing gratitude in this country I always catch them with baffled looks and uncertainty as to how to respond – wondering if I am for real!!! Through this I know I have not been the best at the written word. The sentiment has been there not the follow through. This is something I am working on each day. Thanks to SOC who mission is so much like mine they are a daily beautiful reminder of how precious life is. We simply have this moment so take it and use it by listening to your promptings. Life is simple at the end of the day and over time we have simply made it harder on ourselves. Send gratitude and your life will forever be changed this I know!

    1. It’s interesting to me that people — I think it’s quite common — feel ill at ease writing a note. Maybe they fear looking excessively…emotional? Meh. As you know, expressing appreciation and gratitiude is such a powerful way to connect with others. We are so rarely appreciated that directly.

      Congrats for knowing this is tough for you, and working on it!

  37. I am actually happy that the President deals with more important stuff.
    Sure it would be nice if he wrote “thank you” notes himself. But which of his other tasks should he sacrifice for that? Healthcare reform? Fighting terrorism? Banking reform?

    1. The President has a very large staff. He could easily have someone write notes and scribble his signature. In the world of politics, the ability to connect with people is huge. It could cost him this election. That scares me.

  38. Paper is not a bunch of electrons effortlessly sent via email through a click of a button. Paper is physical, it comes from trees with roots. And that’s what we miss: roots. The solid quality of human beings linked to the basic nature of relationship. A solid ground of sensitiity, gratitude, attention, deep perception and true feelings that most of us apparently gave up in order to be lighter, faster and more efficient in the race into the void. Good manners are not just good manners. And I can only fully agree with you: a thank you note is always a great way to say things. A real pity I can’t send you this message with a stamp on it. Take this bunch of electrons as a lazy, Sanday morning, enthusiastic response.



  39. noemi9

    Thank you for writing this article! Really enjoyed reading it. I have been thinking of writing to my high school literature teacher for a year now…I was not sure if it is appropriate or not..(not a common custom in my country..) but now I will definitely write a ‘thank you’ letter to him. Thank you!

    1. I have no doubt at all that he will be thrilled by your note — especially if such a thing is uncommon where you live. Gratitude for the joy we have brought into one another’s lives…how could that ever be inappropriate?

  40. I often give “note-cards/paper” as a gift and always encourage my children to hand-write a note when they receive a gift. The hand-written word to me is very beautiful. Nice post.

  41. I love this post. I recently started writing random thank you cards to family members that live too far away to visit. I also have a couple ideas for physically writing that I hope will help people rethink their way of communicating. I used to have an iPhone 4, but I got rid of it due partly to my dependency on it, but also because I feel like technology is becoming so much apart of our lives that we’re losing ourselves to the binary universe.

    1. Glad you liked it!

      I bet they’re delighted to receive your cards. So few people seem to mail real letters anymore. I would far rather receive a card than an email. I had major surgery in February and received so many get well cards they covered the back of our front door. It cheered me so much to feel so much love as I recovered.

  42. sknewbie

    I made a resolution thi year to write more thank you notes, it’s been great. I came to the conclusion that I loved getting them, so it must be the same feeling for others. When my husband PCS and I had to quit my job, I wrote thank yous to everyone in the office. It made a great lasting impression. I keep in touch too, great networking to have!

  43. Derrick Lee

    Reblogged this on Derrick Lee and commented:
    ‘Every day someone — the guy making your deli sandwich or doing your dry-cleaning or the woman who drives your bus this morning — is making our lives a little better.’

    Saying thank you is more than just good manners.

  44. A thank you is a powerful thing.
    I’ve been aiming lately to do more handwritten notes and legitimate thank you’s. A quick tweet or facebook post is a good band-aid method, but won’t substitute for a thoughtful, hand written note. I think part of it is that human connection and that time taken to show you legitimately care.

  45. I wrote a letter telling the wife of a family friend who passed away all the things that meant so much to me about him. That letter really meant much more to her than I ever realized it would. Such a small gesture can make such a huge difference.

  46. Pingback: Being Thankful « Shooting the Shick

  47. Realmente me ha conmocionado este articulo, Dar las gracias, reconocer cuando recibimos ayudas en diferentes momentos de nuestra vida, es un valor como seres humanos, seres divinos, llenos de bondad que no debemos perder, creo que debemos fomentar este tipo de detalles, pequeñas cosas, que en ocasiones sin darnos cuenta dejamos de la mano sin parar a pensar cosas como ” dar gracias” algo tan simple, llema de emoción y fomenta la felicidad entre las personas. ” Gracias por escribir esta historia” . Gracias desde España con cariño.

  48. I know my English is not very good, so I try to learn, I apologize for making mistakes, but I wanted to say I really liked the article, because it makes sense for the everyday things that we forget sometimes. we must not lose our qualities that define us as a species.

  49. Pingback: Life after being Freshly Pressed: tips, advice — and welcome! « Broadside

  50. Pingback: Do You Say Thank You? | What Were We Thinking?

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