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The Thank You Note Project – Cultivating An Attitude Of Gratitude

With Thanksgiving a mere three days away, I realized that in the hubbub   my life has been these past few months (2 funerals and a wedding) that I had neglected to encourage Ehellions at the start of November to write unexpected thank-you notes to someone.

The idea is simple….write a short thank-you note to someone for something that is not normally expected. We all know that TY notes after receiving gifts for birthdays, weddings and babies are a basic courtesy everyone should do and people often expect to receive. But what about the unexpected thank-you note recognizing people for everyday things or the mundane? In the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest there is a short article written by John Kralik entitled, “Two Simple Words – How the power of thank you changed my life”. Mr. Kralik tells his own story of personal hard times that depressed him into self absorption until one day he had an epiphany and resolved that every day he would “find one person to whom I could write a thank-you note.” Some of the examples of thank-you notes he wrote were to his sons, his apartment manager and the woman who had fostered his cat before being adopted by him.

Mr. Kralik admits to a realization of how many people he had neglected to appreciate over the years. In writing his simple and short thank-you notes, he cultivated an attitude of gratitude that was manifested in thank-you note writing that edified their recipients but changed Mr. Kralik to be a happier, better person. Thank-you notes are a win-win for everyone.

I have previously written of my own first, unexpected thank-you note. It was in the mid to late 1980’s after I had graduated from college. In my first two years of school at a local community college, I had enrolled in a Music 101 Introduction to Music class simply to satisfy matriculation requirements. Within the first few weeks, the original professor was found murdered in a hotel room in NYC and Dr. Frank Scimonelli stepped in to take over my class. Through the semester he introduced us to the timeline of music, from Gregorian chants to modern jazz. I discovered Baroque music which I liked better than Classical and that opera really wasn’t all that bad (my running joke with Dr. Scimonelli was that Die Fledermaus was really Deflated Mouse). It was almost impossible to not get caught up in the love affair Dr. Scimonelli had for music.

Years after taking the class and with the perspective of those college years behind me, I wrote Dr. Scimonelli a short note telling him how his class stood out from all my other college courses for the lasting change and impact it had on me. Even more than 30 years later, I still retain more of that class content than any other I can remember taking and the effect was that I continued to build upon that to this day. I told him how my music collection had gone from Pop 40 to a more broader collection that included Baroque, Bach, and several Luciano Pavarotti albums and how I discovered an appreciation for ballet from the music of Tchaikovsky. (It didn’t hurt that Mikhail Baryshnikov was THE hottest male ballet dancer at the time.) I’ll never be a musician or even a great fan of any one particular type of music but Dr. Scimonelli did open a new world view for me that I have not forgotten.

He sent me a note in reply and the impression I got from his words was that not many of his former students had ever thanked him for the lesson he taught. He was effusive in his gratitude for my note to him and I learned the first of many valuable lessons regarding thank-you notes, i.e. that each one can be a wonderful little gift to someone else that has the delightful consequence of making its sender feel good, too.

So, readers, take up pen and paper today and write a short note to someone who isn’t expecting to receive a thank-you note from you or anyone else. Thank that co-worker for helping you finish a project, thank the trashmen for neatly putting your trash cans back on the curb each week, thank your neighbor for his beautiful manicured yard that pleases his neighbors, thank the doorman at your apartment, and on and on. The list is endless.

And then comment to this thread about who you thanked but because we want the ideas of who to thank to take center stage, either obscure your usual ID or we’ll edit it for you. Who have you thanked lately?

{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Luthien November 22, 2010, 8:43 am

    I recently sent a thank you note to my high school French teacher- I’m in a graduate program right now, and have been finding myself needing to read articles in French, and was happy to discover I was still able to do so. So I sent her off a note, thanking her for teaching me so well, and letting her know I was still using the skills she taught me 🙂

  • Dorothy November 22, 2010, 10:10 am

    And do it right away! So many of the people I want to thank were older and are gone now. Time passes when you are not looking!

  • karma November 22, 2010, 10:12 am

    I like your idea! I might have to give this a try. There’s nothing rarer than getting “real” mail nowadays. Seems like every handwritten envelope that comes to our house is only ever an invitation to another shower, wedding, etc. I can imagine this must often be true for others as well. How nice to open a addressed envelope to find no solicitation for a change—just thanks.

  • BlossomFinder November 22, 2010, 10:50 am

    Recently divorced and desperate to take the “high road” for the sake of my little kids, the last 2 years have been something of a roller coaster for me, well hidden behind a facade of “everything’s ok”.

    Only this weekend, I found beautiful cards for each of my three closest girlfriends and my sisters & brother, for helping me find my path, keep a smile on my face and for just being them. I sing their praises often, in their presence, but I just thought that it would be nice to send them something unexpected.

    Now, I’m inspired to do the same for the sorts of people that Admin mentions!! It’s like a grand, sweet experiment in Beatitudes!! I’m in!!

  • 8daysaweek November 22, 2010, 10:51 am

    I will be thanking my baby-sitter. She takes wonderful care of our daughter and makes it much easier to leave our first-born 7-month-old baby in someone else’s hands every work day.
    I think “Thank You” and “I’m Sorry” are the two most important phrases at our disposal and ones we don’t use nearly enough. Thank you for the reminder to use it more often!

  • winter November 22, 2010, 11:06 am

    It wasn’t exactly a thank you note, but more of a thank you present to the lady who faithfully does the children’s program at the library. She told me that in all the years she had done the program (free of charge to the public) not one person had ever given her a gift, card, or thank you. Isn’t that sad? And she did a good job, was sweet to the kids, and it was a great way to entertain the troops for an hour during the week.

  • Tracey November 22, 2010, 11:22 am

    My last impromtu thank you note was for two employees at Lowe’s Home Improvement store. Both men showed plenty of patience and gave me undivided unattention in two different departments. It’s so hard to get great customer service anymore. I wrote a note extolling their virtues and faxed it to the manager’s attention. One of the employees called me personally to thank ME for thanking him. He said it made his day. Which in turn, made mine. 🙂

  • TychaBrahe November 22, 2010, 11:46 am

    I would love to thank certain teachers, but three are dead and one I have lost touch with. (He no longer teaches at that university, and his name is too common to locate.)

  • Clare November 22, 2010, 11:58 am

    I wrote to two super-famous authors. I told them how much I loved their books, and explained the influence they had had on me as a writer, and what their work had taught me.

    I really didn’t expect replies — one is in poor health and the other has an unbelievable schedule of appearances and work. They both wrote back — the busy one sent a hand-written postcard, and the other said in her note: “Yours was one of the nicest letters I have ever received.”

  • Gloria Shiner November 22, 2010, 12:17 pm

    I have three friends that I thanked last year for being them. I’m going to do it again this year. My life is so much better because they are in it.

  • Princess B November 22, 2010, 12:32 pm

    When I was in 6th grade, the school I attended required that every student either take band class or art class. I had done both and enjoyed art better so I choose art. What I came to realize was that many other students choose art because they didn’t want to carry around an instrument and though art would be an easy A.
    The teacher was not overly tough but did expect student to actually work and not just sail through.

    One day I got to the classroom quickly and found just the teacher and one student (I assume from the previous class). The problem was the student was screaming at the teacher! Apparently the student felt they should get an A for even showing up and when they kept turning in almost nothing the teacher gave him a D for lack of effort. The teacher spoke calmly through the student verbally attacking her but after he left she was clearly upset by it and gave our class a free time to create anything we wanted. Many students just sat around and chatted or worked on other class work but I spent the time creating a thank you card for the teacher.
    In school I always loved the teachers who were actually there to teach and help students grow and this teacher was one of those types.

    At the end of the class period I waited till most students had cleared out and then took my card to the teacher who still looked depressed and said that I wanted to give her what I created during the free class. Before I left I saw her reading the card and tearing up, this time because the card made her happy instead of because a rude student upset her.

    I have been looking for another teacher for many years who was also excellent and among other great things also taught me music appreciation. Unfortunately he no longer works at the school I attended and I’ve not found anyone who knows where he went. I keep trying though because I really want to give him a better thank you then I did while his student. (I did thank him but I was 10 so I want to tell him that he made even more difference then I realized at that young age)

  • Chocobo November 22, 2010, 12:34 pm

    What a nice idea. I think I will send out a few to some old, neglected friends whom I should have appreciated better years ago.

  • Amy J. November 22, 2010, 12:39 pm

    I wrote an email to the resort where we stayed for my brother’s wedding thanking two specific employees for doing such a great job – I don’t know if the employees will ever see the praise, but I know that it was forwarded to their supervisors.

  • Just Laura November 22, 2010, 1:07 pm

    My last random thank-you note was to two employees at Enterprise Rent-a-Car who went above and beyond in contacting my bank to find out why I was charged double for a car. I included names and the descriptions of their services, and explained that they were assisting me in something that was a bank error, and no fault of their own. When I went back a few weeks later for an unrelated issue, one of the employees remembered and thanked me for doing that, because “letters from customers have a direct impact on any promotions or raises we might get.” I always think that we are quick to complain, but slow to reward good service. And what better way to promote good service than by letting someone know we appreciate it?

  • LovleAnjel November 22, 2010, 1:11 pm

    Last year my random thank-you was to author of my favorite book (it was an email, I couldn’t find an address to send a card to). She wrote back with an “I love you!” and the title and publishing date of her upcoming book (which I could not find online either).

    I’ve got to think a bit on this year’s recipient.

  • samihami November 22, 2010, 1:53 pm

    Maybe I’ll write one to my new boss. I was having tremendous difficulty at work and was miserable where I had been working. He sort of “rescued” me by allowing me to move to his department and it’s been wonderful ever since.

  • CC November 22, 2010, 2:04 pm

    I sent a thank you to my honorary aunt because she always gave me books as gifts and introduced me to some wonderful authors and characters along the way and truly fostered my love of reading.

  • QueenofAllThings November 22, 2010, 2:31 pm

    I recently RECEIVED an unexpected thank you note from my childrens’ grandmother – thanking me for raising them. It meant the world to me and, considering that my relationship with her is less than perfect, meant that much more.

  • Kitten November 22, 2010, 3:30 pm

    I’ve always written thank you letters for staff at stores who go above and beyond. I loved receiving them when I worked in retail (in fact I still have all of them!) and I don’t think those few staff who do extraordinary jobs get noticed enough.

    This year I wrote thank you notes to some of my really wonderful students who were graduating, which is something most of them don’t expect to get from a teacher! It came about because our valedictorian asked me what I thought he should put in his speech. I told him to say thank you to everyone that mattered as they were the most important and powerful words he could use (then realised that maybe I should practice what I preach). He did and had staff, students and parents in tears as he spoke. He then wrote me a letter thanking me and I will keep it for days when I really wonder why I do my job!

  • Jenn November 22, 2010, 4:07 pm

    I did something similar for Teacher Appreciation Week a few years ago. Each day a I picked a different teacher to write about on my blog. At the end of the week, I printed the blog posts and mailed those that I could still find at my old high school. One of them, a dear math teacher, was so touched, she sent me flowers and a sweet note that I still treasure: “You have no idea how much your note means to me. Thank you Jenny and I hope your life is wonderful.”

  • Patti November 22, 2010, 6:01 pm

    The rabbit rescue that I am affiliated with sent thank you cards to everyone that adopted from us this past year. Thanksgiving = thank you for giving me a forever home~!!!

  • PrincessSimmi November 22, 2010, 8:55 pm

    I’m going to write to my Grandmother to thank her for raising me. And maybe to my boss at the Pizza Delivery place I work for, for giving me a chance to prove I can do the job as well as any of the boys.

  • Vanessa November 22, 2010, 9:04 pm

    Several years ago a rear tire on my vehicle gave up the ghost. I pulled into the parking lot of a local plant nursery & started the process of changing the tire. A male employe came out & changed the tire for me. I sent a letter to the nursery thanking him for his kindness.

    A year or so ago, a comic strip that I like (Agnes) ran a Sunday strip that really tickled my funny bone. I sent an e-mail to the author thanking him for making me laugh out loud. I got an e-mail back – he sounded as silly (in a good way) as the little girl in his strip. It was fun to read.

  • Noora November 22, 2010, 11:27 pm

    Last weekend my two and a half year old son was invited to a birthday party at an inflatable’s place. The birthday boy was the eight year old grandson of his daycare provider. My son LOVES these kinds of places, and on top of it, the birthday boy and his brother played WITH him and included him in the party as if he was a part of their peer group.

    I want to send a note to them letting them know how much I appreciate them treating him like the big boy he wants to be. He just adores these boys, and they could easily have run off with their other guests, but they climbed all the inflatables and slid down the slides with him. I also want to send a note to their single mom, letting her know what a great job she’s doing raising them.

  • Kat November 23, 2010, 2:12 am

    I already make it a practice to do this from time to time. It reminds me to be grateful year round, and I really like to brighten someone’s day.

    I also like to praise great employees at stores and restaurants… many times all they hear is complaints.

  • Bint November 23, 2010, 5:17 am

    I went to trace family with my dad in East Anglia recently, and people in the villages were really helpful – inviting us in, giving us directions and sharing old photographs. I sent them all thank you notes when I got home, even though a couple were addressed as ‘the man with the mastiff called X who lives opposite the X pub and is buiding an extension, X village, Suffolk’. This being rural Suffolk, I think they should arrive!

  • Zhoen November 23, 2010, 1:24 pm

    The Detroit Police formed a band called The Blue Pigs many years ago. I looked them up, and was delighted they are still playing, so I sent them this email:

    I just want to let you know, I remember you, Blue Pigs. I was in grade school at St. Gabriel when you performed for us. I was impressed then, despite having no clue what you were when we were brought to see you. I had no taste for loud music at that age. And I still enjoyed the performance, and always remembered. Would have been very near when this band was just starting out. I’m 48 right now, for the sake of comparison. More pleased than I can say that you are still playing.

    No point, just, thanks.

    Got an email back from them, thanking me back. You never know who you’ve touched, unless they tell you.

  • chrsanthymumgeorge November 24, 2010, 12:07 pm

    I involved my kids in this one. We wrote thank you notes to their teachers and my sons aids (he is autistic). I got a few very appreciative emails and thanks in return for having raised polite kids.

  • cest moi November 25, 2010, 8:57 pm

    I read this and it was perfect timing, I have an employee who is supposed to be a junior leader but they continually shirk their duties and call in sick (I am newly into the section although I have been working here a long time) Anyway, she did it to me today, my second week here and she shows up for her shift at 1 pm only to say she has to go pick up a prescription. She leaves and doesn’t call back until 3 pm (it is a 5 minute walk) Seems she is off again for another 2 days “but don’t worry, its the weekend then so I am off till next week” I have a very junior, very pregnant member who knows how to do this person’s job; she steps in and does a better job. I thanked her at the time but after reading this I decided it wasn’t enough. I then mailed my boss and my boss’ boss, I told them what an asset this kid was and how I would be honoured to have her work for me any day. Thank you for giving me the idea.

  • Doris November 26, 2010, 9:16 pm

    I do this all year long. If someone has helped me in even a small way or simply because I appreciate having someone in my life I let them know with a written note. Recently, I was told that one of my husband’s aunts kept a note to read again and again. A friend replied to another note by thanking me for saying just the right thing to raise her spirits that day. You never know when an expression of appreciation can lift someone’s spirits. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that you also never know when you might lose someone. Always tell people how much you value them.

  • Blondie November 29, 2010, 2:46 pm

    The most recent thank you I gave was to a neighbour in my apartment block who – at short notice after other plans fell through – minded my pets, plants and apartment for a whole week while I went away on a Kairos Prison ministry team. Since I also like to give a token of my appreciation as well as a card, I also bought her a nice bottle of wine. Her response – she very nearly cried – and told me that I’d made her day.

    Apart from this, I make a habit – every year – of writing out a thankyou/Christmas card for the bus drivers whose buses I normally catch – most of them go above and beyond with their service (one time I’d walked to the dentist expecting a simple checkup, but had extensive work done and really didn’t feel like walking home. Took a bus only to realise I didn’t have enough money for the trip – and the driver let me ride for free… another time, I was caught unexpectably in a sudden downpour and the driver gave me an umbrella).

  • Redhed November 30, 2010, 3:05 am

    Thank you so much for this post. It is a great idea and something I don’t do often enough. I think I will say thank you to:

    * my mom, for always being there
    * a good friend of mine, for making an effort to keep in touch despite both our busy schedules
    * an aunt, for encouraging my love of reading
    * the postman, for making sure our mail is on time and safe every day
    * the waitresses at our favorite restaurant (they know us there by entree, LOL)
    * a coworker who saved my butt a couple of times.
    * my junior math teacher, for teaching me more about life than math

    And I’m sure I’ll think of more!

  • thanks May 29, 2012, 1:43 pm

    I am learning a lot from this website! A friend gave me a chocolate bar today, there was a special offer in her supermarket and she got one free, so I have written her a note. I must invest in some nice paper to thank more people!

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