Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 25, 2014

The more traditional ‘thank you’


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — My extended family would be the first to agree with this: I am lousy at writing thank you notes. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the thought, time, effort and money spent on sending me something. I really do appreciate it. I’m just pretty bad at remembering to sit down, put my appreciation in writing, and pop it in the mail.

Actually, I’m not pretty bad at it. I’m terrible at it. And I’m not very good at getting my daughter to do it either. Especially when I misplace the list of gifts and record of who sent them. Thank goodness for Jimmy Fallon. He is setting a fine example for impressionable minds like hers. And mine.

I would imagine the new host of the much-revered Tonight Show must be very appreciative of the opportunity handed to him by NBC. He is so thankful for his lot in life that he brought with him from his old TV show a regular weekly sketch called, appropriately, “Thank You Notes.” To a delicate and haunting piano riff, he lifts his arm dramatically and swoops his pen onto old-fashioned paper thank you cards, expressing his gratitude to various people or things, some of which are inanimate objects.

Fallon already has this wide-eyed, good spirited, aww-shucks isn’t it nice of you to watch my show kind of vibe. But now he is the Oprah of nighttime talk show hosts, the guru of gratefulness, and the advocate of appreciation.

Every Friday evening he asks the live studio audience if they mind if he catches up on some personal business by doing his thank you notes and they cheer in anticipation while I cringe with guilt, knowing another week has passed without me taking care of my thank yous. However, his expressions of gratitude — rather than serious and thoughtful — are, in keeping with the nature of the show, funny.

“Thank you, cotton candy, for making my grandmother’s hair look delicious.

“Thank you, Erik and Sadie Bjornsen, for being the first brother and sister to make the U.S. Cross Country Skiing team. I guess it was just something you were born to do.

“Thank you, the Sbarro pizza chain, for going bankrupt. Though if you were so broke why didn’t you just Sborrow some money.

“Thank you, sunny side eggs, for sounding like the happiest way to raise my cholesterol.” Maybe if I had joke writers I’d write more thank you cards, too.

The key, experts are saying now, is to be old-fashioned about expressing your appreciation. Although it is really, really, really easy to send a thank you text or email (and despite it being so easy I sometimes fail to do even that), the most genuine and well-mannered thanks comes in a card, just like Jimmy uses.

According to a recent New York Times article, very busy and high-placed important executives at Vogue and Vanity Fair make it a habit to take finely crafted stationery and put a pen with complimentary ink to paper to write a beautifully worded note of appreciation. Former President George H.W. Bush was well known for sending personal hand-written notes.

But you don’t have to spend a lot of money on personalized, expensive and sophisticated stationery. Boxed cards from superstores or the local pharmacy are just fine. People sit up and notice when something hand-written shows up in the mailbox, rather than pinging into their email inbox or showing up in a text. And, job seekers, a hand written thank you note after a job interview might just land you the position. 

The hand-written part is part of the problem for me. I was given my first ‘C’ on a report card in penmanship by my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Knudsen, and have struggled with my handwriting ever since. I usually print, having given up on cursive writing as soon as teachers no longer required it. However, even that is difficult to read. Sometimes, I tap out a thank you on my keyboard and print it out. That way people can actually read what I’ve written for a change.

 Countless studies have been done on the positive impact of thankfulness. In one experiment, they had participants write a few sentences each week — one group wrote about what they were grateful for that week, a second wrote about what irritated them, and a third group wrote objectively (no negative or positive assessment) about events that affected them.

I want to improve my thank you note writing skills, though, not so I’ll be happier but so that the other person will feel appreciated and that their generosity or kindness doesn’t appear to go unnoticed.

I want to simply take time to do what is right and make that other person feel as good as I felt about receiving their gift.

Then, my next goal will be to get better about sending out birthday cards because I’m even worse at that.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist living in North Carolina. You may contact her at at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.