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Writing Thank You Notes: A Lost Etiquette

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These are what are known as thank you cards.

These are what are known as thank you cards.

Personal Written Expressions of Thanks Are a Rarity

Emily Post would probably have turned over in her grave a thousand times by now if she was been able to witness from eternity the shallow, negligent, impersonal, ungrateful world we live in today.

In bygone days, it was a given that when a person received a wedding or baby shower gift, they sent the gift-giver a hand-written thank you note within one to three months. When being a guest in someone's home for a meal or celebration, a card or note of thanks was an ingrained, automatic response. Children sent letters of thanks to their grandparents and aunts and uncles for Christmas and birthday gifts. Manners, gratitude, respect, and thoughtfulness were normal.

Today, there is very little gratitude, and this is evidenced by the absence of personally written or delivered notes or calls of thanks. Modern grandparents often say they don't know if their grandchildren received a gift they sent because there was no communication from them. I know someone who says she calls a few weeks after sending gifts to the grandkids. "Josh, did you get the legos I sent you for Christmas?" Josh's response is always the same—a very distracted and unenthusiastic "Yeah." End of conversation. In all fairness, if a child has not been taught to say a sincere thank you, they cannot be blamed.

Peggy Post, Emily's great-grandson's wife, has taken up the baton her great-grandmother-in-law passed along, and she now writes about etiquette. Unfortunately, the people who need to listen to her the most are likely clueless about her existence.

“Appreciation can make a day—even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”

— Margaret Cousins

"Thx" Is Not Enough

The advent of electronic media like email, text messaging, and social media sharing has impersonalized communication. Using media to communicate is wonderfully fast and convenient, but it has caused a great chasm that prevents us from relating to one another in a personal, meaningful way.

Sending a text, email, Facebook post, or tweet offers the convenience of not having to take time to think about what to say in the most heartfelt way (email might be an exception at times). Communication media such as these can be likened to written sound bites or short, flippant little snippets. We type letters on a screen and hit send with lightning speed and with no forethought so we can get it done quick and easy and get back to me, myself, and I.

Today, we send hurried texts that say "Thx" when someone has taken the time and care to give something significant to us. "Thx" lacks sincerity, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness if it's about things that really matter. "Thx" says, "that's all I have time for you. I am too busy to even write the whole word, let alone how deeply I appreciate what you've done or given." "Thx" is more appropriate in situations like, "Oh, you forgot your book while you were here. I will put it on your desk."

For many, abbreviated messages of gratitude like "thx" just don't cut it.

For many, abbreviated messages of gratitude like "thx" just don't cut it.

Is Electronic Media That Different Than Writing a Letter?

Since the technological media I mentioned involve sending messages, one might ask how it is different than writing a thank you letter, card, or note. Consider the following. Sending a thank you message via email can sometimes be appropriate, but there is always the risk of it being deleted accidentally or landing in a spam folder.

Purchasing or making a tangible thank you card, on the other hand, requires thoughtful consideration and choice. You look at the image and think about how much the recipient might like the roses, the puppy, or the scenery pictured. If you choose to get one with a written sentiment, you search through the many cards to find one that expresses what you'd like to say the best. This is called thoughtfulness. It shows the recipient that they matter and that you are grateful.

Sending a card, letter, or note of thanks is an investment of time and energy in contrast to the hurried, flippant, instant process that technology affords. It takes time to sit down at a desk and think up a meaningful way to say thank you. And yet, most people don't think twice about spending hours on the computer surfing the net or reading tweets.

This is a thank you note I received from a friend.

This is a thank you note I received from a friend.

When Should We Send a Thank You Note?

Thank you notes should be sent when someone has gone out of their way for you to show you that they care. Following are standard occasions to send notes of thanks:

  • Shower gifts
  • Wedding gifts
  • New baby gifts
  • Graduation gifts
  • Any gift where the giver is not present
  • After an exceptional kindness or favor
  • After a job interview
  • Condolence notes or gifts
  • When you've been a house guest
  • Parties or events thrown in your honor
  • Variety of events you've attended
  • Benevolent gifts or charity of some sort
  • Donations to your favorite charity

Exceptional acts of kindness can be anything that has helped or encouraged you. There are a million and one reasons to write notes of thanks.

Email and Telephone Thank Yous

Email thank you notes are perfectly appropriate in casual situations with people you are very close to, such as a friend, family member, or close co-worker. It also depends on the reason for saying thank you.

Emily Post offers examples: "Email is okay to thank for a coffee or meal that was casual or whose invitation was extended by email in the first place. It’s also okay for very small favors. But for dinner parties, big favors, an actual gift, or being a houseguest, handwritten thank you notes are your best bet for an expression of warm, heartfelt thanks."1

I have written email thank you's many times to close friends where I wanted to say more than just a few words that fit on a card and wanted to get the message to them quickly. You can still take the time to consider what you will say and write a thoughtful message. Again though, you always run the risk of it getting deleted or lost somehow. Take time to cut and paste and save it onto a Word document in case it is somehow lost. There is nothing wrong with asking, "Did you get my email?" If they didn't, you can try again or send it by snail mail.

Telephone thank yous are wonderful at holiday times and birthdays. It gives you and your family time to chat and catch up and verbalize the gratitude that they will hear in your voice. Few parents have their children write thank you notes anymore when family members send them gifts, and that's okay as long as the child calls the family member and offers a proper thank you. Personally, I prefer this when it comes to the grandkids. It is important for parents to teach their children how to do this and why.

Having children say thank you is the polite thing to do. It teaches children to be thankful and find joy in saying thank you. It helps children to become "other" oriented.

Many parents forget to encourage their children to thank teachers, relatives, and others that help them along.

Many parents forget to encourage their children to thank teachers, relatives, and others that help them along.

Teach Children to Write Thank You Notes

It is wonderful to receive a thank you note from a child. I have helped my children's teachers and taught Sunday school off and on for many years and received many cards and letters of thanks, complete with drawings. May is teacher appreciation month and a good time to have your child and/or their class write a note or a poster of thanks. These are treasures teachers will always hold dear.

It is also important for parents to model gratitude in the home. Not just in written form but as a way of life. In fact, it is the modeling of gratitude that will make the greatest impression and impact on the children. It will cause gratitude to grow in their hearts.

Is There Hope?

The ethos of communication in America today is defined and driven by the desire to get things done as fast as possible, as easy as possible, and as conveniently as possible. Sadly, communicating gratitude in written form is viewed as a prehistoric practice by most people today. Barring a miracle, it will probably not return any time soon. The die has been cast. We can only hope that this mindset will wear itself out or that its emptiness will cause hunger to find connection and thoughtfulness once again. Wouldn't it be wonderful if note cards one day became best-selling items?

Giving thanks shouldn’t be a chore—and doesn’t have to be if you make the effort to keep it interesting.

— Emily Post


1Emily Post, Being Thankful: Thank-You Note FAQs. The Emily Post Institute. Accessed 6 June 2020.

Questions & Answers

Question: If grandchildren do not write me thank you letters and do not call to thank me, is it appropriate to just not offer gifts to them?

Answer: It's up to you. It's a tough call. On the one hand, it's justified, and it could have the desired effect in changing their attitude and actions. On the other hand it could stir up discord. You know your family, go about your decision prayerfully.

Question: What if you send your grandchildren confirmation that you sent a donation to St. Jude's or another charity under their name and 1 gift?

Answer: Are you asking if those gifts are acceptable? If so I would say yes.

Question: I am very hurt that all 5 of my grandchildren (able to write) never send thank you notes. I ask them if they liked their gifts. They complain that their pj's were too tight, etc. I cannot believe they do not know this simple manner. It comes from the parents - they don't write thank you notes either - what to do? I feel I put so much time into personalizing their gifts.

Answer: I feel your frustration. Been there, done that. It can be hurtful. My grands have never complained but I simply don't hear from most of them and I have 14 of them. Some of the adult grands will text a thank you and I can tell they are heartfelt. You are right about it coming from the parents. I have grown weary of asking if the kids received the gift in the mail. In my experience if the parents don't teach them they are not going to do it. It's sad and it hurts. At this point, it would be wonderful if I could just get a phone call, which to me is even better than a note. It is sad when you put so much time and effort on choosing their gifts. Some people have given up and quit sending gifts or spending a lot on gifts. That's an individual choice. I hope things turn around.

Question: I bought my grandchildren thank you cards a while ago and expected them to use them. They never used them. What do you think?

Answer: I would say that if the parents have not focused on or prioritized teaching them to write thank you notes then the children are not likely to see their importance either. But I would also add that if the kids are older and you gave them the cards (and I assume you had some sort of conversation however brief) then whether the parents have taught them the value of the practice or not they are still able to make the choice to use them, it's their responsibility. The fact is that it's very difficult for a grandparent to change things. Lecturing doesn't usually help. WhatGetting on the parents has not worked for me. What you might do if you have an opportunity is sit down with the child or children and have them write some after an occasion which warrants a thank you note. Make it fun. Have them be creative, draw pictures, decide what to say.

© 2013 Lori Colbo


Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 01, 2020:

Barb, thanks for sharing. Those certainly are some of the best. Happy New Year.

Barb P on January 01, 2020:

The ONLY cards I keep? Not birthday, not anniversary, not holiday...but thank you cards. These are precious to me and remind me of deeds done and appreciated, especially the unexpected ones. Pure Gold!

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on August 20, 2019:

Hi Diana, thanks for writing.

I agree that thank you notes are a generational thing. But saying thank you in some way shape or form is not a generational issue, it's a basic common etiquette everyone should practice. I may not be crazy about the "thx" but at least I know they received what I sent.

My whole point is, there is a lack of gratitude in our culture. If kids are not taught to say please and thank you things, whether in writing or verbally, they will be selfish and take people places and things for granted.

I like your comment on getting a photo of the person with the gift and a comment. It has happened from time to time and it brings me joy knowing they liked what I sent. I make my own greeting cards, a hobby I started about 3 or 4 years ago because with 14 grands and 2 great-grands, and cards going for $4 and upward, I simply couldn't afford it. My friends and family love getting them because I can personalize them. Because I have so many grands I only send gifts to the younger ones for birthdays. I don't give Christmas gifts, too expensive, I'm on a small income.

I don't send gifts and cards only to get a thank you, however, it is still nice to know they got it and like it.

Diana on August 14, 2019:

I’m glad this practice is being forgotten, along with sending Christmas cards. I never give gifts with the expectation of anything in return, even a thank you. Though I do prefer buying an actual item as opposed to the common gift card route. Shopping and taking time to find the perfect gift brings me happiness so I do it.

Physical cards can also be lost (by the post office or receiver) just as much as accidentally deleted. A physical card doesn’t necessarily require much more thoughtfulness. You can put just as much thought and effort into a text or email. I’d rather get a text with a picture of the gift being enjoyed. Who buys stamps anymore? Everything is automated. Nobody keeps address books, either.

This is just another case of the older generations resisting change and begrudging youth. Happens every generation for the past hundreds of years.

My advice would be to follow their social media accounts. If they don’t have one, you can’t blame technology and email for their lack of thank you card writing. However I’m sure you’ll find lots of pictures of grandchildren and information on their important events. Maybe even pictures of them happily enjoying gifts.

I will note that I occasionally send thank you cards for my children, or have them if they’re old enough. It’s only for those I know will cause a fuss and will truly enjoy them. Unlike most who will likely just nod and trash the card, essentially wasting my money. Sometimes it’s with slight annoyance on having to go through the hassle as opposed to genuine thankfulness. So there’s that.

Ashley Lipford on December 27, 2017:

I think win the new advent of social media I have found that more appreciated than a thank you note or card is a video of the children opening and enjoying the present. Thank you notes are old and now more expensive than ever (.46 just to send). A thank you note goes in the trash whereas a short video and pictures can last a lifetime.

t on December 01, 2017:

Thank you notes are an antiquated obligation. I would rather receive a phone call of sincerity than a rushed thank you note for a gift. I mean, come on.

Michael-Milec on March 08, 2015:

Hello lambservant. Certainly, wasn't hurtful, rather instructive and practical, whereby a 'giver' and a 'receiver' create an atmosphere of sublimity... would only add to ' this little light of my,' when more often practiced by those who are already called " a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to him..." (Just a thought)

God bless and protect you.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on March 07, 2015:

Greetings Michael, I hope my "lecture" wasn't hurtful. I came on pretty strong when I wrote this because I wasn't hearing from certain people for gifts I mailed and just wanted to know they arrived. We should not give only to hear gratitude, we give because we love and care. But it is nice to hear thank you. It should be a common courtesy. Blessings my friend!

Michael-Milec on March 07, 2015:

Thank you lambservant from the bottom of my heart for an edifying lecture.


Bold , truthful and much needed message. (Oh how I wish that this would be a curriculum choice of godly parents.)

You have put me back into comfortable memory zone of old fashion common sense lifestyle, back there where our parents, grandparents with minimal or no formal education gracefully raised a thankful generation...

(Ouch ). A correction has to be made, since we have neglected one part of it, namely the notes / letters/ thank you in writing.

Great Hub, Voting up, useful, beautiful , interesting.

Peace with us.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on July 18, 2014:

That's true sunshine. Thanks for stopping by.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 18, 2014:

Due to technology it's easier to send a text or an email as a form of a thank you note, but I still snail mail them out also. As do my daughters. Who doesn't like to receive something cheerful in the mail, instead of just bills.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on November 16, 2013:

"It seems like people expect a gift nowadays, but don't think of the importance of thanking the person who sent it." Oh crafty, BINGO! You put it into perspective so perfectly in one sentence. May I use that quote in this hub (attributed to you of course)?

CraftytotheCore on November 16, 2013:

Such a great Hub! I was so stunned the first time I sent a present to someone and never heard back. It was about 20 years ago. That's around the time I started noticing people didn't bother to say thanks any more. When I asked the person why I had never heard back, they said that they didn't know I was expecting a thanks.

It wasn't so much that I was expecting anything, but a little acknowledgment would have been appreciated.

I've always sent thank you notes. I've recently sent wedding shower gifts and never got a response. I think it's rude. It seems like people expect a gift now a days, but don't think of the importance of thanking the person who sent it. Just backwards.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on November 15, 2013:

Hi LS,

Another one of those missed notifications. "Sending a card, letter, or note of thanks is an investment of time and energy, in contrast to the hurried, flippant, instant process that technology affords." Although I admit I don't often write notes like I should, I think that sums it up. It's all with the new attitude of "I don't have time for you; I'm too busy with my own agenda; etc. I'll work at trying to do better. Thanks for the challenge.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on November 12, 2013:

I hope this article is sent around the world, as it surely does seem like a lost etiquette nowadays! With all the texting going on, I am not sure younger persons even know how to write anymore? The world is moving at such a fast pace, it is sad that many will not even know of such. It is important that all parents teach their children this ... but will they take the time or have the desire to do such?

I know when I receive a special handwritten note from a special friend or anyone really, it means the world to me. I have kept each and every single one I have ever received! It is just so personal.

Up and more and sharing!

God bless you dear sister,

Faith Reaper

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on November 12, 2013:

Amen Jackie. You're preaching to the choir. Stay tuned, I am working on a hub on how to write a thank you note. Thanks for stopping by with your affirming comment.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 11, 2013:

I 100% agree with this! If what I am hearing is correct though, kids today do not know how to write because they never have to. It is becoming a lost art. Hope this will encourage some parents to not only teach their children this courtesy but start using it themselves. ^