Gratitude is such a valuable thing. There are many things which are gifts that we give ourselves: integrity, honor, etc. Gratitude is also on that list. Others cannot make us grateful, and others cannot make us say “Thank You” for the experiences, relationships, or things we have in our life. To be grateful is to live with a sense of humility for the blessings we have in our lives, both large and small.
Each New Year’s, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is known for making a public resolution for a personal goal or habit he will tackle in the upcoming year. For 2018, his particular practice was to write one “thank you” note to someone each day of the year.
Love him or hate him, his practice is a good idea, and since learning of it, I’ve started a similar writing habit. Less rigorous than every day, but still regularly writing “thank you” notes to others. I do not know what Mr. Zuckerberg’s resolution requirements were, but the requirements for my habit are simple:
- the note has to be either handwritten or typed hard copy
- it must be mailed via that logistical dinosaur, the U.S. Post Service (an email to the person does not count)
No requirement for minimum length, no need for a particular depth of ideas, the note only has to expressly say “Thank You” and aim to encourage the recipient.
The medium of communication matters. Handwriting a note or letter is a long-form endeavor, and there are ideas and degrees of gravity that will be expressed best in that writing. Many nuances get easily lost in an email, text, or even a phone call. Often handwriting something is the most truthful way to convey an idea, thought, or emotion.
Voicemail usage has dropped by approximately 70% over recent years. The newest communication mediums are too easy and accessible: why leave a three-minute message when you can text, email, or rely on the other individuals’ “missed calls” signal to have them call you back?
Even personal use of email (which I consider to be about the fastest reasonable pace to digital communication) no longer looks like a long-form communication; emails are often now so brief they might as well be text messages on the fly. Our interactions have become truncated and (too often) superficial.
In our age of instantaneous and shallow, a handwritten note is tremendously valuable. Someone, perhaps a continent or world away, had to find stationery, get a pen, sit down, and write out something to you while thinking about YOU. It is a fantastic sense of connection, and it requires effort to organize, write, and mail; effort that someone spent on YOU.
And here’s the best part: not only is there an investment of time and energy but it costs money to send this note. The sender has to use their treasure to place their thoughts, ideas, or salutations into the world, trusting the USPS to ensure that this precious cargo finds its way to YOU.
The “thank you” notes I’ve written so far have been amazingly impactful. I’ve sent notes to childhood friends, former pastors, long-distance relatives, and even people I see and communicate with regularly in person. In response from recipients, I have received phone calls, several notes back, and a variety of texts thanking me for the handwritten communication. (Even got one handwritten letter in reply.)
But the impact of this habit shows up in my life as well. Writing a gratitude note forces me to pause at some point in the day, set aside my craziness or personal schedule, and focus instead on someone else, thinking about what I can say that will be of value, encouragement, and importance to them.
Writing “thank you” notes is an excellent exercise in putting others first and attempting to serve them. It’s a great reminder that other people in the world face the same problems, challenges, and seasons of life as we are, and that they need encouragement, bolstering, and care just as much as we do.
It’s challenging to let irritations or annoyances build up in a relationship if you write others notes of thank you and praise. As you dwell on the things they do right and how much you appreciate them, their failings, and shortcomings recede to the background.
Gratitude is a muscle: the more you work on it, the stronger it gets. We live in a world that is continuously outraged and at war with itself. We live in a world that idolizes the individual narcissist beyond all proportions. How much more productive it is to deliberately set out to make sure that someone knows their efforts are noticed and appreciated. It’s part of a worthwhile endeavor to build stronger relationships, communities, and people.
Do you take time to intentionally thank individuals in your life?
Start today: make a list of the individuals or families to write or contact with an expression of gratitude and appreciation. You’ll be amazed at the ripple effects.
Originally published at https://fjwriting.com on July 22, 2020.