Hand-written thank you cards remain powerful connection tools in my digital world

A hand-written thank you note in this card grabbed my attention.

When was the last time you received a handwritten note in your mailbox?

And, no, I’m not talking about all those “personal” advertising flyers in faux handwriting asking to buy my house. Some of them look like they are written by primary school students. Others have tiny, perfectly printed characters that reminded me of notes left behind by a serial killer in movies.

I’m talking about a genuine, handwritten thank you card. Or a personal note.

Yes, I’m talking about analog communication in a digital world.

It happened to me last month. I donated money to a local charity, and they replied with a handwritten note thanking me. Wow!

It made me feel fantastic on a day when more than 100 new emails stuffed my inbox — most of which I probably won’t read. 

I read every word of this thank you, written in flowing script writing that took me back to a time before the internet, when letters, notes and cards were commonplace in my life. 

Handwritten cards

Back to the farmhouse where I grew up, to when my mother with write and mail send letters to her mother in London – Ontario.  When she sat at the kitchen table night after night in the first week of December, sending out Christmas cards with thought notes included inside.

Back to a time of writing essays in pencil on foolscap paper in primary school.  

Back to when I started writing my class notes in a fountain pen in high school, because I enjoyed the experience.

Back to the late 1980s, when I worked at the Cambridge Reporter newspaper. I vividly remember when readers — occasionally — dropped a thank you note in the mail about a story they liked. Or offered me a story idea on paper.  I don’t think I saved any of them when the paper closed in 2003, as I was waded deeper in to my bottomless email inbox. 

Thank you cards are powerful

The fact I was so taken — indeed, pleasantly startled — by a thank you card in the mail last month would be no surprise to researchers in this 2018 study: “Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation,” published in the journal Psychological Science.

The study found that people expressing gratitude underestimated how pleased people would be with a handwritten note. And they overestimated the potential awkwardness that someone might feel receiving a heartfelt thank-you note.

The exchange of a handwritten thank you note also brought emotional benefits to both the sender and recipient.  

And it’s more than just saying thank you to a neighbours for watering your garden while you are away on holiday.

I found business coaches promoting the power of hand written thankyou cards on the business website Forbes.com.  They’re highlighted as glue to build personal networks for career success.

It’s a good idea to write a thank you note to an interviewer, even if you didn’t get the job.

Handwritten cards are also used to support mental patients during recovery after hospitalization, Psychology Today notes.  Caring Cards are written by groups of patients who meet to create one-of-a-kind cards. They’re given to peers struggling with mental health concerns, offering extra, personal support.

The simple act helps both card creators and recipients, reduce the risk of suicide, because researchers believe it builds a sense of purpose and social connections.  At the very least, the cards are enjoyable to create, send and receive.

Thank like you speak

But what to say? Hallmark, the greeting card company, of course, offers advice at hallmark.com.  Basically, saying thank you is easy if make it easy.  Be yourself.

“Writing tip: If writing a thank-you takes you back to high school and turns your writing awkwardly stiff or formal, then relax and try to write like you speak. If you’re a person who would say, “Thanks so much for watching our dog!” then say, “Thanks so much for watching our dog!” Just exactly like that.”

And here’s another tip sheet: The Seven Steps to a Great Thank-You Note, from Michigan State University Extension Service.

I last sent a thank-you card sometime last summer. I think. Or maybe it was the summer before?

That’s a foolish practice to continue, if I want to nurture my personal and business networks.  And to gain the positive personal. emotional benefits of purposeful gratitude.

Now, it’s time for me to start practicing my penmanship. Buy a box of quality cards at my favourite writing tools store, Phidon Pens in Cambridge. And remember to pick up stamps at the post office.

Join me in a challenge I’ve set for myself: write and mail one thank you note every month for the rest of 2022.

Or, perhaps, make that a note once a week.

This post is adapted from a speech presented March 13, 2022 at Cambridge Toastmasters.