Thursday, 2 January 2014

Why must I write thank you letters?

Expressing gratitude is one of the fundamental marks of a civilised person, even in the modern world. If you fail to thank even a parent or spouse for a Christmas gift, you are transgressing not just social rules, but the deepest bonds of civilised life. This is a serious matter because people gain impressions of others by their manners and letters, even in families.

Note well: if you do not thank someone, the sender will not know you received it and will think it was lost in the post. Some will ask you whether you received it and then you will prove that you did not thank them for it, or value it.

To use or cash a gift before you have thanked someone for it is a kind of insult. Would you like to send a gift that is used or cashed without anyone thanking you for it? Basically this behaviour says “I have got this stuff, but I do not care where it came from, or who made sacrifices to give it to me”. This behaviour marks a person out as both selfish and self-centred. 

Sadly, today, some people do not express the gratitude and gifts that they receive at all, or for the support and love they receive from those around them even using social media or email.  Using social media to thank someone for a gift is not really acceptable. But if you cannot write, need to save money because you are out of work, you are travelling or working night shifts, it is fine. At least, an email shows you received the gift and you were grateful.

In relation to Christmas gifts, you run the risk of not receiving any more, if you do not thank the giver. From a purely selfish point of view, you are also weakening the natural bonds of your family and society that one day you may need more than you do now. Someone who has no regard for their family members lacks moral feeling and the ancients would regard such a person as "outside the pale"or "a barbarian". Scripture is heavy in its demands on our duties towards those who support us, such as parents. Hence the more eloquently, rapidly and elegantly thanks is expressed, the more others think of one’s manners, maturity and character. You can “set yourself apart” in the way you write. You should even thank those you do not want much to do with!

If you fail to sit down to write a letter in return for a gift that someone has spent time thinking about, money buying and precious minutes wrapping up and posting off, there is something lacking in your character. As well as lack of gratitude, it denotes, lack of reliability, lack of self discipline and many of the other qualities people need to hold down a job in the modern competitive world. Most of all it can denote a person who has no regard for the “oil” that moves the wheels of life.

If someone has made the gift themselves, it is even more precious. If the person has little or no money and has still given you a gift, then thank them more profusely to show your sensitivity to their situation even if you will not use it, or will give it away.

Some rules of thumb on when to write a thank you letter

  • if someone has been in the room when you opened the gift and you expressed your thanks to them face to face in a sincere way, you can consider whether a thank you letter is appropriate. This particularly pertains to the gift of a bottle of wine or perishable food. One rule of thumb is whether you think they will write to you. If you think they will you should write to them.
  • if you do not live with the person, say they are in an elderly people’s home, it would be polite to write anyway on nice note paper to brighten their day.
  • if you rarely see a relative or friend who gives you a gift at Christmas, make the thank you letter a mark of your ongoing connectedness with them. Otherwise, you will prove yourself to want nothing more to do with them and also prove that you are a thoroughly ungrateful, even rude, person!
  • sit down as soon as possible after Christmas and just do it. Allowances will be made for people such as mothers or women who are busy at this time of year until about 6 January at the latest. After that is too late to write. Instead, you should call and express apologies. But even then, a phone call will not substitute for a handwritten letter.

How to write a Thank you letter
  • use your best notelets or best quality notepaper 
  • use a black or blue fountain pen, if you have one 
  • aim to write at least two sides in medium sized handwriting. Your letters need be an essay or dissertation, but a letter handwritten is infinitely better than email or printed off letters. It shows courtesy.
  • hand write the envelope
  • start by thanking someone for the specific gift to prove that you know they gave it to you and what it is. Try to sound really grateful, even if you did not want the gift! It cost someone money and time. Their thinking about you is what counts most.
  • if you received a cheque, say how you will spend money on something that the sender would consider useful to you, not just blowing it "on a night out".
  • say a few key things about how you spent Christmas 
  • insert something about their plans for the New Year, or situation, if you know them so the whole letter is not about you
  • in the last paragraph express good wishes for the New Year 
  • put an appropriate “sign off” such as "Thanking you once again, With love from”, “Kind regards” or in some more distant cases “Yours sincerely”.

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