After the festive holidays have passed, I’m usually always asked whether written thank you notes are still necessary. And, I know you want a quick yes or no. But, here’s the thing: the answer really is, “It depends.” Let me walk you through my rationale about thank you notes now, and in the future I’m sure you’ll be able to answer this question for yourself rather quickly.
Traditional etiquette has maintained that if the gift-giver was present when you were able to open their gift to you, then your sincere thanks at the time was all that was needed and a note was not necessary. If the gift-giver was not going to be able to witness you open their gift, then a handwritten note was in order. Not only did this allow you to convey your gratitude and appreciation of the gift, but it served the practical purpose of assuring the gift-giver you had indeed received their gift. This made a lot of sense when gift-giving was primarily between close family members and romantic partners and when people didn’t receive gifts from work colleagues, fellow students, clients, or others with whom they had some connection.
In our culture today, it is not uncommon to receive a great deal more gifts due to our expanded circles and networks and due to the incorporation of “Hallmark Holidays” into our culture (e.g., Mother’s Day). While I would still acquiesce that if the gift-giver were present when you opened the gift, and if the gift were from a family member, you probably don’t need to send a note, I think in all other situations you should take the position that writing a thank you note is a worthwhile endeavor.
Your next questions is probably something along the lines of “Do I have to write an actual note or will an email or text suffice?” Again, the answer here is “It depends.” If the gift is a plate of cookies from a neighbor left by your door, a text or an email acknowledging the gift and thanking them for it is sufficient. If you and your grandmother text regularly but she wasn’t able to see you open your gift, your grandmother will probably be happy to receive a “thank you text.” However, she’ll feel even more appreciated if you send her a written note. When the gift-giver and the recipient are very familiar, the usual norms of communicating for that particular relationship will make clear what form expressing your thanks should take.
Despite those caveats, here are some of the reasons why I think you can’t go wrong in sending a note:
- As mentioned above, the very practical reason of letting a gift-giver know their gift has been received is always appreciated.
- The act of focusing on someone else’s generosity will frequently inspire us to be more generous with others.
- The practice of gratitude opens us up to seeing more in our lives to be grateful for.
- Thank you notes add emphasis to what you may have said in person when you received a gift.
- A note affords you the opportunity to compliment and acknowledge someone else’s generosity without requiring a reciprocal response.
- Taking the time to write a note demonstrates that you don’t take gifts for granted and that you are not so busy that you fail to notice when someone has done something kind for you.
- People like to be connected to and help people they think are kind.
- The fact that so many people do not send thank you notes anymore will make you stand out (in a good way).
- Who doesn’t like to receive mail that isn’t a bill or an advertisement?
Whether you express your thanks in person, via email or text, or in a hand-written note, be sure to take a moment to let the people who think you are special enough to buy a gift for know that you value the time and generosity they have directed towards you.