Self Improvement 13: Write a Thank You Letter

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thank you letter

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Being grateful improves your life and the lives of those around you. Research shows that, writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depressive symptoms.

Select someone who has helped you in general, or you want to thank for a specific reason. The thank you note may be work-related or personal. The key is being sincere and letting the other person know you appreciate their help.

The more specific you can be the better. As thank you means praise, then make sure you thank for the action and not a thing about the person. Here are some phrases to start your thank you note

  • Thank you for the
  • I am grateful for
  • I am thankful for
  • I appreciate the

Who should you thank?

Well, everybody! Here are examples of people who may deserve a thank you letter:

  • Teacher – Thank you for taking the time to help me understand X. I have a much better grasp on X now.
  • Parent – Thank you for expanding my world and answering all my questions when I was a curious little kid.
  • Child – Thank you for giving it your all when tackling a difficult subject in school and powering through.
  • Doctor – Thank you for taking the extra time to help me understand the X situation and laying out all the options for me.
  • Boss – I appreciate the time you took to coach me and help solve the problem I had with X.
  • Friend – Thank you for being there for me. You always cheer me up, and our conversations about X help me become a better me.
  • Co-worker – I’m happy you are there every day to support and encourage me when I need it. Especially the last time you helped me out with X.
  • Partner – Thanks for taking care of all the things that make my life better. When you X and Y then I feel much better and less stressed.
  • Client – This can be a bit more formal, Thank you for giving us this project although there were many other options for you to choose from.

Be as specific and personal as possible

Start with the greeting you would use when you met them right now. Continue by thanking them for the gift, opportunity or deed that they have given you.

Always fill the X with something specific. More specific thanks will be received much better. For example:

  • Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed for the position of account manager.
  • Thank you for all the great advice you have given me in the last two weeks about how to talk to potential customers.
  • Thank you for inviting me to your launch party and introducing me to John Smith, we had a great

What are you grateful for

Then write how the thing they did helped you in a big or small way. Write down everything you want to let them know. Be as specific as possible. If you are too vague, the thank you letter might lose some of its emotional appeals. The next part can read something like this:

  • The interview gave me a better understanding of your company and the requirements of the position. It made me more interested in the position, and I am really excited to work for you.
  • I have had the opportunity to avoid many of the time-consuming mistakes and potentially dangerous situations. I especially remember the “don’t run around with the scissors” advice.
  • I had a real pleasure to talk with you. You helped me to connect with Mr. X, and we found a lot of common interests that may lead to a longer relationship.

Finish with the future in mind

Finally, close with a few lines that leave the channels open for future communications. Add something that may be useful or interesting to the other person. This may be something that indicates that you will be in touch to return the favor:

  • Please let me know what I can do for you. Did you know that you can do X to make your project move faster? I hope we can have a long and beneficial relationship.
  • I hope we can meet up around holidays and I can fill you in about my latest progress at my job as a programmer. Meanwhile here’s the X I think will make your task easier.
  • I will have a fundraiser next month and would love to see you there. I’ll let you know when I confirm the date.

End with a friendly signature and your name. Be careful to consider the details of the thank you letter.

  • Brief
  • Friendly
  • Warm
  • Handwritten (but legible)

Here are some examples of how to sign the note:

  • Love
  • Warmly
  • Friends always
  • Pals forever
  • Affectionately

Do not send thank you letters to the same person too frequently. Once or twice a year is OK. If you send more than that, it may seem weird, but don’t  worry about being awkward or the recipient not appreciating your thank you note. One study found that people who express thanks significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel.

oscar wilde quote

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention. ~~Oscar Wilde

The reason to send the thank you letter should always be to express gratitude and make the day better for the recipient.

Your selfish reason for sending the note would be to keep the communications open and your network alive. Sending a thank you letter makes you appreciate what others have given you but it also helps you see what really matters in your life.

You can send the thank you letter just once, and it’ll make you feel better. However, if you make a habit out of sending thank you letters, it will improve your happiness in the long term.

Psychological strategies that may enhance feelings of gratitude

  • Journaling about things for which to be grateful
  • Thinking about someone for whom you are grateful
  • Meditating on gratitude (mindfulness, present moment awareness)
  • Gratitude journal at the end of the day or week, write down three things for which you are grateful
  • Practicing saying “thank you” in a sincere and meaningful way

Handwritten vs. electronic communications

If at all possible send a hand-written note. But it’s not always possible because you don’t know where they are going to be to receive the letter. In this case, send an electronic message. Email, text message, the direct message in a social network like Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other.

As Oscar Wilde put it the act is more important than the intention.

Do you have 30 people in your life to thank? Most of us probably do. Make a list of people and write one thank you letter every day for the next 30 days.

Now select the person you want to thank and write the first letter.

Image: Oscar Wilde portrait by Napoleon Sarony
Image: Writing Apparatus by Kaushik Narasimhan

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