When I was a little girl, my mom used to force me to write “thank you” notes every time someone would give me a present. I remember understanding the concept of showing gratitude, and of course I was always filled with the warm fuzzies when someone would give me a toy or a book I wanted. But boy, did I hate having to write those notes!
“Can’t I just call Aunt Pat and thank her for the $20?”
“No,” mom would say, “When someone goes out of their way to make you happy, it’s the right thing to do to take the time to write them a proper ‘thank you.’”
But of course I’d do it, and before long there’d be a pile of colorful envelopes with the names of various friends and family members who were nice enough to recognize my birthday or Christmas or graduation. Mom would always address them. Perhaps it was because my handwriting wasn’t super neat or a bargaining chip to get me to write the notes in the first place, but whatever the reason I was happy not to have to add that to the arduous task of flipping through my mom’s address book and copying all those numbers and street names down.
I don’t think I really started liking writing thank you notes until I became a so-called adult and would receive them myself. They still felt like a chore most of the time, so when I’d receive one from someone unexpectedly I realized it really felt good! It meant something that that person had taken the time to get out the stationary, scribble the message, stamp it, and mail it. I started finding joy in saying a “proper ‘thank you,’” as my mom would say, knowing that it would make my friend or cousin or grandparent smile.
One recent morning, I woke up in a crap-ass mood. I’d had a terrible night’s sleep and had a day ahead of me I was less than excited about. I was coming off my 30th birthday weekend which had been one of the most fun times of my life. My husband had put together a fun three days of beach outings, cocktails, dancing, food, and good friends and family all around me. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was experiencing some after party let-down, but still…it sucks when you’ve had three days of revelry and now it’s back to the grind. Don’t get me wrong, I lead a life packed with both ease and bliss. I was just in a funky mood.
So there I was, grumpily eating a bowl of granola, sipping a coffee like it was my last, lamenting in my head the mundane tasks the day held (laundry, CVS for toilet paper, studying some music for a gig I didn’t really want to do, damn “thank you” notes for my birthday gifts.) I decided to tackle the notes first in order to get them in the mail that day. “My mom would be so proud of me,” I thought with a smirk. “In fact, I think I’ll write hers first.”
As soon as I started to list all the wonderful things my mom and darling step-father had done for me and given me over the weekend, my mood started to shift. Next, a note to my friend Anna for a lovely candle, Lori for that fancy bottle of wine, Lyndsay and Mike for a great necklace.
With each one, my scowl started to fade. I found myself recalling not only the nice items I’d been gifted, but the hugs and kisses and smiles and love I’d been showered all weekend. Before long, I was no longer feeling sorry for myself but marinating in those warm fuzzies about how cool it was to be surrounded with so much love.
There’s a lot of talk about gratitude practice these days, and I’ve just begun to really understand what that means for me. When I find myself fixating on the negative, I’ve learned to instead shift my focus to what I’m grateful for, and that’s getting easier and easier to do. It surprised me how writing those “thank you” notes really brightened my day. Such a simple act, and yet that was the difference: it was an action.
It’s so easy to fall into a pity party of one, especially when you go on a bender for your birthday (HA!). And “changing your perspective” is where it’s at, but if you’re like me, doing something always feels better than just thinking about it. And I don’t think it’s just writing it down for yourself, there’s something great about reaching out and connecting with others when you’re feeling dark, and that’s what a “thank you” note is good for. You never know what that kind gesture can do for the person on the receiving end, too. Knowing that your words of gratitude will actually be read or heard by someone else grants validity to them.
So go on, write someone a “thank you” note. I’ll even address it for you.