a way with words

A friend asked me ages ago to write a blog for her custom stationery website about a thank-you-letter-writing campaign I embarked on a few years ago. The hope was that my story might serve as an inspiration to her customers to dust off their ball-point pens and ultra- finepoint Sharpies and (gasp!) hand-write a good old-fashioned letter to someone (by way of her beautifully designed cards and paper, of course). So here goes, albeit belated (sorry, Tonya!)…

Shortly after the birth of my first child, Kellan, probably while on maternity leave, I stumbled upon a glorious publication known as Real Simple magazine. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a magazine targeted at us women who are part of that special circus sideshow act known as Mothers, Wives & Coworkers Seeking Constant Domestic Perfection, Career Fulfillment & Inner Peace. An impossible balancing act, for sure, Real Simple aims to help us achieve it through test driving the best cleaning products, offering up quality book recommendations, sharing never-thought-of-but-surprisingly-useful applications for the empty toilet paper roll, and publishing insightful and heart-warming essays that probably only the women in the aforementioned category can truly appreciate. Ever since my discovery, I’ve pretty much devoured every page they’ve put out. One particular issue devoted a piece to an author, John Kralik, who published a book (“A Simple Act of Gratitude”) where he writes about his personal endeavor to write one hand-written thank you note every day for a year. While his reasons for starting his campaign were much different than mine (in short, his life was in shambles and he saw these expressions of gratitude as a karmic approach to turning things around), I was still struck by the idea. I had always loved both sending and receiving hand-written letters myself and so I wondered if I might also be able to write one every day for a year. And so it began on January 1st, 2011, that my discipline would be put to the test.

Before you go and give me too much credit, no, I did not make it through 365 thank you notes. I made it through about 120, though, which I’m still quite proud of. I even scanned each one to a USB drive before mailing it so I could document the “project” and also so I could read back through them one day and have a pretty good glimpse into my life at that time. I wrote notes to anyone and everyone – my Starbucks barista, my infant son, my deceased mother, my close friends, my not-so-close friends, my mortgage lender, my husband, my mother-in-law (I think she received several, but probably deserved all of them), and the list goes on. Eventually I think I just ran out of thank you note fodder, both content and recipients, but it was truly a worthwhile experience on many levels. First and foremost, gratitude is one of the most meaningful things we can possess as humans. Overall I think most of us are thankful for the things and people we have in our lives, but how often is that gratitude really expressed? How often do we send a quick email to say, “Hey, old friend, I’m thinking about you and I hope you’re doing well…?” An effort that literally takes less than a minute, which most of us never take the time for and yet, at least for me, when I’m on the receiving end of something like that, I am overjoyed at that person’s thought and kindness. So imagine how much the joy meter goes up when it’s more than a quick email, but a note or a letter that was lovingly hand-written, addressed, stamped and sent off to its destination? Being witness to the joy that my notes brought others was the most gratifying part about my project. With the onset of technology, the hand-written sentiment has largely become a thing of the past, so it goes without saying that on the rare occasion you receive one, it becomes instantly special.

People do tell me that I have a way with words and since writing is something I truly enjoy, I like to believe that I’m pretty good at it. What that doesn’t mean, though, is that someone who isn’t particularly gifted with words shouldn’t still put forth the extra effort to show another person that they care. I still believe in etiquette, after all, and how many thank you notes have we all gotten in exchange for a wedding or baby gift that simply said “Thank you for the (insert mundane registry item here)! It was so good to see you at the (insert obligatory, costly event here)!” Yes, we are all guilty of the quick, requisite thank you note, especially when you know you’ve got 85 more to write and the chances of your spouse helping are nil. But still, didn’t those people take the time, energy and money to celebrate you and your life? Don’t they all individually deserve an extra moment spent thinking about what makes them meaningful to you? Why did you invite them to your baby shower in the first place if they didn’t have a special place in your life? The note doesn’t need to be long necessarily, but just show a little extra kindness. A note that says “Thank you for sharing this incredible time in my life with me. You have always made me laugh, even on my wedding day, when you shared the story about your cat performing tricks on your leather ottoman in order to help calm my nerves.” I mean isn’t that more special than “Thanks for the crystal picture frame. It was one of our favorite things on the registry.” Eh. No thank you.

Again, it all goes back to the sheer bliss that can come out of expressing gratitude for another person in your life, no matter how insignificant the gift, act or gesture might seem. Giving thanks for the little things can often make the biggest impact because it is likely unexpected and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t appreciate a pleasant surprise. So pick up your phone, your Ipad or best of all, your pen, and send some love and thanks. You can’t go wrong, unless you don’t use quality paper products, which you can procure at http://www.tolukapaper.com. Happy shopping!


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