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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Write that thank you!

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

thank you note

Dear Aunt Betty, Thank you for the socks. Love, Billy.

Did you write thank you notes for gifts when you were growing up? Back in the ’60s when I lived under my parent’s roof, it was an expectation. My notes were often no more eloquent than Billy’s, but at least they acknowledged receipt of the gift. And, more importantly, they helped instill a positive habit, a habit of expressing gratitude to others.

Now, half a century later, the practice seems to have gone by the wayside. Even after baby showers and weddings you may or may not receive a note of thanks, not even a year later. Was the gift received? Was the card misplaced?

Are we no longer thankful? Is writing thank-you notes considered an archaic unnecessary practice?

Why do we write thank-you notes?

Consider the multitude of reasons we might write a note of thanks besides receiving a gift:

  • For hospitality after a meal or a visit to someone’s home.

  • For help with a project, moving furniture, or yard work.

  • For providing advice or a listening ear when making a big decision.

  • For teaching us valuable knowledge or skills.

What have you received thank you notes for? Not just a smiley face and THX in a text, but a handwritten, heartfelt note of gratitude?

Many notes, cards, and letters that I’ve received over the years I’ve saved, and each time I read one it brings a smile and a warm feeling of being appreciated and needed.

A previous blog described the physical and psychological benefits of expressing thankfulness. If these benefits apply to the act of writing notes of gratitude, why don’t we do it? The practice of writing letters in general has gone by the wayside, is that the reason for not writing thank-you notes? How might that affect us?

How does expressing thanks affect our mental health?

A study by Wong and colleagues, published in 2018 in Psychotherapy Research, titled “Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial,” compared three groups of students undergoing mental health psychotherapy.

The control group received psychotherapy only. Another group received therapy plus did expressive writing about negative experiences. A third group received therapy and did gratitude writing. Participants in this group wrote one letter of gratitude a week for three weeks.

Compared to the other two groups, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly improved mental health four and twelve weeks after the letter writing ended.

Bottom line: Write that thank you, you will be better for it.

Another study, by Kumar and Epley, published in 2018 in the journal Psychological Science: “Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation,” analyzed perceptions of both writers and recipients of letters of gratitude.

They found that letter writers overestimated how awkward recipients would feel and underestimated how happy and surprised they would be.

Bottom line: Send that thank you, it will be appreciated!!

Who can you send a thank you note to this week?

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.” ~ Randy Pausch

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