Saying "thank you" may seem simple, but giving really heartfelt thanks can be complicated. Should you call or write? What should you say in a thank-you note? How can you show how much someone's help meant to you? Today we answer these questions and more.
Just do it.
This is really the biggest hurdle. Thanking somebody in the moment isn't all that difficult, though it's still important to remember to do it. But thanking someone after the fact, especially via note, is one of those things people notoriously put off. Just knuckle down and do it. You'll feel like a good person, and your recipient will feel all warm and fuzzy and be more motivated to get you awesome presents/do favors for you in the future. Also, they will think you are extremely polite! I have a friend who's really good about thank-you notes, and she once sent one to my mom for taking us out to dinner. Because of this my mom will always remember and like her.
A thank-you note is called for whenever you want to express gratitude or appreciation for a gift, act of kindness, good work, patronage, job interview or any number of other personal exchanges. At a minimum, you must send thank-you notes for wedding gifts, gifts received and not acknowledged in person or by phone, and gifts of particular value (even if acknowledged in person).
Pick the right medium.
Assuming you can't thank somebody in person, there's an argument for calling them up right away. Kelly Browne, author of 101 Ways To Say Thank You: Notes Of Gratitude For All Occasions, told me, "the moment you receive a gift you are most often filled with a little sparkle that someone has thought of you. And when you call, that excitement is conveyed in your voice and the sender feels that their kind gesture was important to you."
However, notes also have a special charm. Says Cheryl Russell, author of Thankyouology: How The Art of Saying Thank You Transforms Your Life!,
While some may say it's old-fashioned, in my book, a thank you note/letter will never go out of style. The biggest advantage is that the recipient can read it again and again and again. Emails get deleted and phone calls are hard to remember as time goes on. I am confident there are many boxes and file cabinets with thank you notes tucked away — especially those from children.
Whether you should call or write depends on the situation. In general, a call or e-mail may be appropriate for smaller favors (says Russell, "someone who attended a delightful party or dinner gathering may choose to call the hostess the next day and extend their gratitude"), while a note is better for larger ones, or for gifts. Notes tend to be a bit more formal, and possibly better than phone calls for professional connections and distant relatives — but I've also gotten really lovely thank-you notes from my best friend, so it's possible to send them to people you're close to as well. When in doubt, Browne points out you can always do both.
[I]f you are expressing gratitude for a gift, mention the gift and say what you like about it, and, if relevant, how you plan to use it. Don't just say, "thank you for the gift." Make it personal and be sincere.
Be thoughtful in what you choose to write; you don't want it to sound generic. Think about the moment you received your gift and how you felt. Tell your recipient about it. This is a wonderful way to share a special moment if the person who gave you the gift isn't there.
Use adjectives to describe the gift they gave you. It shows that you appreciated all the reasons why they chose that particular gift for you. "Thanks for the crystal glasses." Or "Thank you for the sparkling crystal glasses!" Adjectives help convey your emotion! Use them.
Let your feelings show.
Browne points out that thank-yous are not the time for restraint or nonchalance: "Half-hearted thank-you's are not acceptable! Even if you're not a demonstrative soul and you have trouble expressing yourself in person, then make sure you follow up with a note." This is good advice for those who are a little uncomfortable being effusive — it's often easier to express how much you care if you do so in writing. And don't downplay your own thank-you. Says Russell,
[R]efrain from using phrases such as "I can't thank you enough" or "this is a small token of appreciation. These phrases minimize the sentiment. Keep expressions in the positive, "This is a token of our immense appreciation" or "there is so much I can say about your generous gift, I will start with a heartfelt thank you…"
What about the awkward situation when you're actually not that grateful? What do you say about, for instance, that scented flower that plugs into your USB port, or that useless strawberry huller? Russell says, "I think it shows if someone feels an obligation to say thank you" — but sometimes you do need to say thanks to someone who got you a crappy gift, if for no other reason than to preserve a decent relationship with them. My advice: find something about the gift you like. Maybe the strawberry huller is pretty. Maybe the scent flower really does a good job covering up food smells in your office. And if you really, really hate something, go the note route. It's definitely easier to hear insincerity over the phone.