Back of the Book: Thank you, and you, and you

Writing thank-you notes is a great way to create more joy in the world

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

After my recent wedding, I took it upon myself to handwrite thank-you notes to everyone who attended or helped with the big event. 

This was not my original intention. I ordered small cards with a wedding photo printed on the front and inscribed with simple text reading: “With love and thanks, Alex and Lyndsie Carey.” Despite entering the endeavor with the thought that I would only write “Dear so-and-so, thanks!” on the back of each card, I inevitably got carried away, and started using the blank space to express very specific and heartfelt gratitudes.

About three mornings — and only 30 cards — in, I texted my husband at work: “The next time we get married, you’re writing the thank-you’s.”

Courtesy photo.

I remained steadfast in my undertaking, and became reacquainted with the art of the handwritten thank-you note: a scientifically-proven vessel for boosting mental health.

In the age of text and email, it is undoubtedly easier to shoot off a digital message of gratitude, complete with heart emojis. While I grew up hand-writing thank-you notes, I’ve fallen away from the practice in my adult life, opting instead to text friends a simple message of, “You’re great, thanks!,” along with a gif of two dogs hugging. Cute, but far from as genuine as it gets. 

Once our wedding passed and the warm fuzzies of everyone’s generosity remained palpable, I knew handwritten cards were the only way to go. Thus began my journey of hand cramps and smudged ink, as well as the challenge of figuring out what words, exactly, would do justice to my sincerest feelings.

I thanked people for gifts, for being present to celebrate our big day, for being wonderful friends and hardworking family members. I meant every word, and it felt good. As research suggests, that good feeling doesn’t stop with me at the post office. That good continues, creates a cycle and just makes life a little better for a moment.

“Saying thanks can improve somebody’s own happiness, and it can improve the well-being of another person as well — even more than we anticipate, in fact,” Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas, told TIME magazine in 2018 after she conducted a study that found people writing thank-you notes typically underestimate the joy felt in people who receive that note, as well as overestimate the awkward factor such an action could create. Feelings of well-being were boosted for both writers and receivers.

“If both parties are benefiting from this, I think that’s the type of action we should be pursuing more often in our everyday lives,” she continued.

The science is even more concrete than that, it turns out. According to a brain-scan study in NeuroImage, the positive effects of a simple gratitude exercise, such as writing a thank-you note, remain present in the brain months later.

“The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits,” the study concluded, according to Forbes.

It would appear that being grateful in writing is a little known secret to both create and share happiness. It seems obvious, yet, it seems to be a dying art.

I won’t pretend it was the most fun I’ve had in my life; writing 100 thank-you’s was a slog. Am I happy I did it? Yes. A handwritten letter goes a long way to express exactly what you mean to convey, both with words and the action of writing, addressing, stamping and sending a physical token of gratitude. Thank-you notes speak louder than digital words, and as every human will agree, it’s simply fun to receive a joyful piece of mail between the bills.

Add some genuine happiness to the world, both for yourself and for someone you care about. Send a thank-you note.

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