Happy April! Finally spring is here in my part of the country – I hope it is for you as well. This week, I have a guest post and a challenge for you. Jennifer Richwine is a blogger at richandwine.blogspot.com/, an integral part of a well-known southern university’s key staff, and the soon-to-be-author of a book on thank you notes and their power in life and business. Read on!
Thank you notes were non-negotiable in my house growing up. My mother was a stickler on writing thank you notes when we received gifts for birthdays or holidays, and often we weren’t even allowed to enjoy the gift until the thank you note was written, stamped, and in the mail. Like most children, I balked at the idea and hated trying to come up with the right thing to say. As I moved through high school and college, when my mother did not influence as much control over me, I continued writing thank you notes because I knew it was the right thing to do, even when I hated every second of it.
The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I had an internship in Washington, DC and was truly far away from my family for the first time ever. At the end of the summer, I decided to write notes to my mother and father, to thank them for my college education, but also for what great parents they were. And I gave them specific examples of ways I thought they were good parents. When my mother received my note, she called me weeping. “Why are you crying, Mom?” I asked. “You know how I feel about you.” And my mom responded “I always knew you loved me, but I didn’t know you thought I was a good mother.” Wow. I knew then that even those closest to us don’t know how we feel about them unless we tell them.
As I moved into my first job, my first apartment, my first time truly on my own, I became more disconnected from the people who had always been so prevalent in my life. I realized how much I missed these friends and family and wondered if they understood just how important they were to me. So one Thanksgiving, I decided to make a list of the people who had been important influences in my life over the past year, and I proceeded to write thank you notes to every single person on that list, thanking them for a kindness, a friendship, a piece of well-timed advice. And as I wrote, I began to feel like I was bursting with joy for all of these people I had in my life. I never realized just how fortunate I was until I actually put onto paper and into words why I was thankful for them.
As the notes began arriving in mailboxes, my phone started ringing. Friends and colleagues and family were delighted, surprised, thankful themselves, to receive my notes of thanksgiving. Common phrases were ‘I didn’t know it meant so much to you,” or “I can’t believe you took the time to write that,” or “I never knew that mattered to you.” It quickly became very clear to me that something special was happening, simply because I had taken the time to say thank you. I also recalled my mother’s long-forgotten words when I would tell her something someone had done for me: “Don’t tell me,” she would say. “You need to say these things to them … how will they ever know if you don’t?” How right she was.
Over the next five years, I continued making a list throughout the year, and at Thanksgiving I would sit down to write twenty, fifty, sometimes seventy five thank you notes to the people in my life who had given me reasons to feel thankful. And every year I had people tell me it was one of their favorite things all year – that they looked forward to it and it reminded them of how important a simple note of thanks really is.
I don’t write notes at Thanksgiving anymore. I write them all year, every week, sometimes every day. I’ve found that there’s no point in waiting to tell someone how much you appreciate them … and there is much to be gained by doing it now. I write notes to colleagues, friends, family, people I meet when I travel, hotel staff, the guy that fixes my car, and anyone else who does something that makes my life easier, fun, special. And although it may sound like a cliché, it’s changed my life and my relationships.
Over the years I’ve found that when I am the happiest, when I feel the most gratitude, is when I’m expressing it through writing thank you notes. The very act of writing a note of thanks invests me with a renewed sense that I have a pretty good life and many reasons (and people) for which to be grateful. And once I figured this out, I wanted others to benefit from this as well. So a few years ago I put together a short talk about the art and the power of a thank you note. I presented that talk to several groups and departments where I work, and I was blown away by the positive reaction and feedback. Colleagues continued to follow up with me to tell me how their own thank you notes, written after hearing my talk, had impacted their lives and those of their loved ones. I was asked to present at a conference for university stewardship and donor relations professionals, and once again, the feedback reaffirmed what I already knew … thank you notes are powerful. They are one of the easiest and most positive ways to transform an individual’s view of his/her own world, as well as impact the life of the receiver. There are so many examples of how a simple note of thanks has transformed a relationship, healed a hurt, bonded individuals who were estranged, or even saved a life.
My challenge to anyone reading this today is this: Write thank you notes. Write lots of them. Write them until you are so full of gratitude that there isn’t room for anything else. But today, or this week, or even this month, write one thank you note. Write it to someone who has impacted your life in a positive way – someone you’ve never told. Dare to write someone out of the blue. Tell them why they matter to you, how they have made a positive difference in your life. And then sit back and watch what happens.
“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” – G.B. Stern
Cheryl’s April Thank You Note Challenge for you: Write one thank you note every day for this month. That will make 30! Let’s see what happens. Comment below if you are up for the challenge — we’ll do it together!
Jennifer’s request from you: Do you have a story in which a thank you note created an amazing response or result for you? Would you like to share it with her? Please email Jennifer with your story at firstname.lastname@example.org – she would love to hear from you!