Thank You Notes ~ Is Technology Trumping Snail Mail?

thanks_note2Thank you notes. Real pen and paper snail mail, stamped, and sealed with a kiss, envelops. Do you still write them? Or have they been dumped into your life’s gratitude graveyard recycle bin?

Perhaps you used to write them, but somewhere along the way, you chose to allow technology to trump your household mail box.

Do you think an email, FB message, im, text, phone call, emoticon, clip art or any other kind of technology memo is just as good, or maybe even better, than an old fashioned stamped message of appreciation? After all, you do express your gratitude right away. Or is that a cop out?

I admit I use these quick-paced options, except with a few older friends who don’t have computers or cell phones. I have a good excuse, too, as we live in Mexico half the year. Try finding great cards here. Or if I do score one, don’t bet on it reaching my hoped for destination. I love Mexico, but if you think our USA postal system has kinks, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Before the holidays, a good friend had me take pause.

He emailed and asked, “When you were young, did you write thank you notes? Were you always so good at it, or did you have to learn it?” How kind of him. I really felt honored. Why did he ask? He commiserated that despite his concerted efforts, he has a difficult time getting his young adult kids to take the time to write and mail gratitude/appreciation notes.
Here’s what I emailed back to my friend:

“Thanks for your kind words. To answer your question, “Yes, I always wrote thank you notes. I was an odd duck, however, as my friends did not write notes. But it was not because I was a good, thoughtful kid.”

Here’s my thank you note backstory:

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My Mom never strictly parented my one-year-older sister and me. She wisely left us to our own creative resources. Except for one thing. After we received a gift, we were instructed to write a thank you note immediately. My sister bucked this, but I got on the “please Mom” bandwagon. She asked so very little of me. I do remember how hard it was at 6 to write a letter, but I did. I can only imagine my pathetic penmanship and simplistic words, but at least the gift-giver got a thank you message. I bet Mom was smiling seeing my hen-scratching letters, as my left-handed writing skill was never my strong point.

Mom’s values were strong. We didn’t have much materially. We rarely got a treat. Saving money was #1. But that was great on so many levels. Mom would say, “Isn’t it wonderful we have all our bills paid, and we don’t owe one person?” So the stage was set for gratitude. Any gift we received was extremely appreciated.

I remember asking Mom why thank you notes were so important. She said, “My friends took time, effort and money to send you this gift. They were thinking of you. You matter to them. You need to let them know you are grateful. It is the right thing to do.” I remember that, as if it were yesterday. She didn’t say much, my dear Mom, but when she did, it was important to me.

Good news for me as a kid, Mom had some financially well-heeled friends in Philadelphia where she had attended business school. They had all worked together at a bank and were dear friends. They had no kids. Mom had come off the farm in Delaware. Although she was petrified of attending school in Philly, but she borrowed money from the only family relative with money, her strict aunt, and off she went. These worldly city gals took Mom under their generous, lovely wings. She even went to live with one friend after her aunt accused her of coming in late and using too much toilet paper. Ever so humble, Mom was mortified. She didn’t even date, for Pete’s sake! But she was grateful for her opportunity.

Mom was always happy when one of her Philly friends came to visit us. She had these friends her whole life. She outlived them all. For birthdays, Christmases, and when they came to visit, my sister and I got fancy gifts. I loved Lillian, Anne, and Frances, and I treasured their generous gifts, too. They were always store wrapped in stunning thick paper with real material ribbon I saved. Too beautiful to unwrap…almost!

Today’s kids/young adults, in my humble opinion, have often been raised with too much materially.

Maybe small things don’t matter because they have so many big things. Perhaps gifts are not that special. Instead, what used to be thought of as unique and special are now considered everyday necessities. But really, a $600. iphone? Yes would be the answer many teens/young people I know would answer. One told me, “My phone is my life. My parents know that. I have to have it to keep my friends. They know I need it to be safe.” Ok, I get this, but a new iphone with every innovation?

But to be fair, most people I know no longer write thank you notes. I am very happy to cut them slack. To me, the wisdom of today tells me ANY genuine recognition of gratitude is better than none at all. Life morphs, advances, and creativity takes on many new forms. Personally, I love it when I see a new playful image, icon, clip art or computer generated phrase/infographic that makes my hear sing. I also enjoy email invites to occasions, so original and fun. And they save the forest, too.

My son, Sean, 36, will send an occasional card, but he will rarely write a thank you note. I am used to it. It’s OK, Maybe even better, on social media, he tells everyone he loves me. He even posts photos of his full sleeve tattoo of my favorite flowers, created in my honor. How’s that for a real-life thank you? How humbling great. He calls and texts, but WRITE a letter, nope. Yes, I DID train him to write notes, but after high school, that was the end of that. So if your kids are not paper and pencil communicators, either, take heart. You are not alone.

I think thank you notes are difficult for many folks.

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Why? Because you have to stop, think about your emotions, be genuine, and generate a creative way with words to convey your feelings. To state your own sincere truth. To cover all the gratitude bases is quite a chore for many.

When you begin to write, does your inner critic plummet out, your fear-of-failure persona emerge in full bloom? Do you think you won’t say it right, or it will sound canned or corny? If so, it may be easier to put your head in the sand and nix it altogether. A quick technology fix , however, may be an elixir to your angst. Who needs perfection? Maybe remember the 70% rule. Even 70% OK may be all you need to get the job done. You decide.

Recently, I coached two women because their daughters refused to write wedding thank you notes. These ladies, in their 60’s, were appalled. I helped them figure out it wasn’t about them. It was their daughters’ decision. Hard for them, I know, but letting go is an art, too. At least the daughters did a blanket thank you on computer. I know, people take the effort, time, and thought to send a gift. The parents cringe when their kids do not take the time to acknowledge this in writing. Reality is, the world is changing. Not to send any recognition at all, is intolerable for many parents. But it is not about you. Your kid owns the responsibility. Let resentment go or get dragged by it!

Yes, most folks want a note to know if their gift arrived.

Some gift receivers mail already-printed notes and some don’t even bother to sign their names, let alone one sentence of thanks. I guess that is better than nothing for them.

To me, a note or any meaningful, loving communication lets the other person know they are important to you. Young kids tell me they do not need to write a letter for people to know they care about them. They expect us old coots to be mind-readers! They feel it is more about THEM than the other person. Yes, a generational shift, I think, because they communicate on social media all the time. Very brief is enough. Me, me, me, too! But it is their norm. Clip art is the new gratitude mode, but at least that can be creative and loving.

My son has taught me a lot about life and letting go. I tried so hard to be a good mom. To teach him values. I imagine you have done the same thing with your kids. I shake my head sometimes…then I do more letting go! It is their brave new world, no matter what I/we might think. But when it comes right down to it, showing gratitude and love is what is important in the long run, no matter how you choose to express it. Be it snail mail or a technological treat.

“Love in your heart isn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.” Oscar Hammerstein II

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Hugs of empathy and sincere thank you for reading my blog.

Happy 2016!

Judy

P.S. Want some etiquette if you do decide to write a thank you note?

For all developmental ages…

For different age groups…

Shocker, most online thank you note articles were about what to write after a job interview…

Basics… I can’t believe people cannot think these simple messages on their own.

PAUSE. Get in touch with what you are feeling. In your heart, soul, spirit, body? How can you put GRATITUDE into a few words that state your truth? Real words that express how you feel. Short is OK and better than nothing.

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