The Lost Art of the Handwritten Thank You Note

The Lost Art of the Handwritten Thank You Note

The Lost Art of the Handwritten Thank You Note

I often ponder the letters of spiritual direction written and shared between St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. Through their written correspondence, these two powerhouse saints developed a great spiritual friendship. Their letters have even been compiled and presented together in a book for the contemporary world to learn from and enjoy.

Perhaps I have something of a wistful romantic attachment to letter writing as a relic of a bygone era. Over the past few weeks, I have received what I consider rare treasures — handwritten thank you notes from a few family members and friends. I consider them rare as more often than not, notes of gratitude received these days tend to be delivered by way of email and Facebook. Looks like I’m not alone. According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987.

With so many digital means of communication available at the touch of a button, taking the time to write a thank you letter by hand and send it via snail mail may seem antiquated. And maybe I’m just naively digging in my heels hoping the elegant simplicity of a handwritten letter will not become a lost art. Admittedly, any type of thank you note is better than none, but why not do something that’s great and handwrite your thanks?

The “etiquette police” agree. Ann Landers says it is always correct to send a personal, handwritten note. Emily Post suggests that, “The letter you write, whether you realize it or not, is always a mirror which reflects your appearance, taste and character.”  Indeed, viewing someone’s handwriting is a window into his or her personality. Some of the finer examples of cursive could probably even be considered a form of art. Case in point: John Hancock.

Speaking of that famous signer of the Declaration of Independence, did you know that the new Common Core State Standards, a set of national benchmarks for American public schools, do not require students to learn cursive? I wonder if, in a couple of generations, people will even be able to read the Declaration of Independence. I sure hope my children will have that ability, and given I’ll most likely be the one to provide cursive instruction to them, I might as well give myself as many opportunities as possible to practice my penmanship and cursive.

I’ve noticed when I do sit down to craft a letter or thank you note, my five-year-old typically takes quite an interest in what I’m doing. She wants to know what I’m writing and why. Then she’s very eager to help me fold the note, stuff it in the envelope, put the stamp on it, and walk it to our neighborhood’s cluster of mailboxes for the postal carrier to collect. Why does she find this activity so fascinating?

I’d suggest it speaks to our nature.  We’re an incarnational people; we work through our senses. The process of sitting down and writing a letter requires picking up a pen and putting words to the page, feeling the texture of the stationary and envelope, licking the envelope, and physically walking it to the mailbox. There’s a bit of sacramentality both to the process and the written word that keeps us in touch with the physical dimension.

Hopefully engaging my daughter in this process is organically fostering her sense of gratitude. And can’t we all use opportunities to practice a little more gratitude? With both a baby soon on the way and the holidays right around the corner, I suspect opportunities will abound here at Das Schmidt Haus to express our collective gratitude. As much as I might be tempted to shoot a quick note via Facebook or email when treated to a kind gesture of hospitality or generosity, certainly such efforts are worthy of at least fifteen extra minutes of my time. So I’m taking on a personal challenge and giving myself permission to view these upcoming events as opportunities to handwrite notes of thanksgiving. I hope those extra minutes strengthen relationships, improve my cursive skills, and continue to foster a five-year-old’s fascination for letter writing.

Copyright 2013 Lisa Schmidt


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  1. Your column is timely. I just wrote a blog post about the lost art of manners and thank you notes a week ago. I was saddened, and disappointed, when I received a text message thanking me for being the Godmother to my niece. It didn’t seem like much (in my humble opinion) to take a minute to write a handwritten note of gratitude–which is what I did when I was asked to be the Godmother–but apparently a text message, although impersonal, seemed sufficient enough. I do wish more handwritten letters would be sent, even if postage is extraordinarily expensive. I love the look on my children’s faces when they receive a card or note handwritten and addressed to them from a grandparent. It makes my day and it makes them feel extra special. I know that in our house, we will continue to write notes of thanks, as well as notes “just because” simply to brighten someone’s day.

    • “Just because” – Some of the best gifts in life are simple “just because” small things, aren’t they? Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Blessings to you.

  2. This article Lisa is truly wonderful. Yes, it seems like handwritten letters and thank you notes are a bit of a forgotten tradition. So many times, I have to remind my grown children to write their cards when gifts are received. I remember reading once that the late Princess Diana, would teach her children when there were young to write thank you notes. I always find it very special to receive a hand-written note. In fact, I keep all my thank you cards and one that is so beautiful I have on display. Take time in selecting that thank you note paper or card, because by taking the time, it becomes a gift in itself!

  3. I have often thought about this lost art of a handwritten note. During a recent cleaning and purging phase, I found a box of letters from my deceased Grandmother’s home. As I read the handwritten thank you notes to my grandma from my aunts, I felt that personal connection with each of them in my mind’s eye. Many have since passed away which has made these letters an invaluable hand recorded legacy of family history.

  4. Pingback: The Lost Art of the Handwritten Thank You Note | The Practicing Catholic

  5. AMEN, girlfriend!! I have always loved writing, and receiving, handwritten notes. My mom taught me long ago of their importance. What a beautiful post!

  6. This is a very heart-warming article. Reading this has made me think of some special loved ones who have passed on : my dad & mum.. and my mum’s parents.

    My dad wrote me letters when they lived briefly overseas. My mum sent me a lot of cards and wrote on every space there was on each one. My grandpa and grandma wrote me letters : they both wrote on the same paper. I so miss them very dearly..and their letters and cards!

    P.S. The cards they sent had more than the ‘dear daughter, love dad & mum’ thingy.
    They wrote on the cards, bless their hearts!

  7. Pingback: The Lost Art of a Handwritten Note | The Practicing Catholic

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