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Bring back the written thank-you note

Published August 15. 2015 09:00AM

A bride of two weeks sends a group email thanking all who attended her wedding and for giving her and her new husband gifts that averaged $200 each. A high school student flips a "thanks a lot" to her teacher who just wrote her a two-page letter of recommendation. Then she scoots down the hall to another teacher to get another letter. A graduating college student thanks no one for her monetary gifts and sends no notes, but when her guests leave her party, her mother says, "Thanks for coming."

To the bride, to the student, and to the graduate, I say, thanks for nothing.

Expressing gratitude has become as quick and meaningless as blinking an eye. Perhaps writing thank you notes is bothersome because it takes too much time for busy people to write them. Not much effort is put into showing appreciation for gifts received of anything from a large sum of money to a home made craft that took a little girl nearly two hours to make. Consequently, gift giving has become an obligation more than a want-to-do, and gift receiving has become an expectation. The latest trend is parents creating online gift registries that list in detail what their kids want for their birthdays. "It's the thought that counts" does not seem to matter anymore. Make sure you get little Johnny the blue bicycle, not the red one, even though the blue one costs more than you want to spend.

It's a general consensus that expressing gratitude is a responsibility of parents to teach to their children. In Mary Jane's book "Attitudes of Gratitude," she writes, "No one is born grateful. Recognizing that someone has gone out of their way for you is not a natural behavior for children, it is learned." Ryan also contends that people who are grateful have happier lives and experience much less depression than those who are not.

Those who are overgifted and have not had to earn a thing in their lives can feel a sense of entitlement. What comes with that is a lack of appreciation for the efforts of others.

I learned the value of writing thank-you notes back in the day when almost everyone did. Nowadays, receiving a thank-you note is a pleasant surprise.

Call me corny, but a few Father's Days ago, I wrote my kids thank-you notes for being the best gifts a dad could ever want. I read the notes aloud to them. When I looked at the expressions on their faces, I saw that writing down my gratitude had re-gifted a huge package of pride back into my kids.

Here's a segment of a written thank-you note someone shared with me recently. "I really appreciate the book you bought me for my birthday. You found out that novels about ghosts are my favorite reads, and after I'm done with the book, I will look forward to scaring you with one of the stories on a dark and stormy night!"

There's nothing like a written thank-you note to bring a smile to the gift giver. It's common sense. If we take the time to get and give, then you take the time to send us a few written sentences expressing appreciation.

With a handwritten letter in 1994, Ronald Reagan, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, thanked the American people for giving him a gift of "great honor" for allowing him to serve as their president. In his final paragraph he wrote, "I now begin the journey that will lead me to the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead." Now that's about as heartfelt a message that anyone could write with pen on paper.

If Ronald Reagan can write a thank-you note in the face of a terminal illness then we can find the time to jot down our gratitude for the gifts we receive while we enjoy good health.

By the way, since you have read this column, thank you for giving up a few minutes of your time to spend with me. Much appreciated!

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