Having a baby means receiving lots of baby gifts. And in our house it also means writing lots of thank-you notes. I just got the rest of my thank-you notes written and sent off. Admittedly, they were a pain to write, having to scrounge up friends’ and relatives’ addresses and take what precious free time I (don’t) have to compose a note. But I have a guilty conscience (a word I swear I will never be able to spell on my own), and so this guilt hangs over me until I have profusely thanked anyone who has given us anything.
At times that guilty conscience has done me good… it’s the only thing that kept me from completely rebelling against the monastic lifestyle my parents enforced on me in high school. That’s right, I had basically no social life as a teenager. But with my compulsion to profusely thank people, I’m starting to wonder if my guilty conscience is leading me astray.
Doing anything more than saying “Thanks” is a dying courtesy these days. Out of all the family members we send gifts to each year (15 different people), only one of them sends a thank-you card. And we don’t mind. The lack of receiving a card never even crosses our minds. So is it worth it for me to keep up this seemingly archaic tradition of thank-you notes? I don’t know how most people feel on the subject, so I’d love to hear your two cents.
I mean, there was a time period just a few decades back when it would have been considered rude to not send a thank-you note. What has changed since then? Is it that we can easily call, text, email, or FaceTime a “thanks” instead? Or do we as a people just expect to be given things nowadays? We’re definitely more entitled than we used to be. Check out these WWII posters I found on Pinterest, for example:
The one on the left is from Canada and the other is from Minnesota. Can you imagine our government releasing similar messages today? No way! I’ve heard politicians refer to our country as an “entitlement society.” I’m not going to touch that term with a ten-foot pole because I don’t want to talk politics. But I do think that generally we as a society expect more than we used to.
We expect a certain lifestyle without having to save and work hard. If we see something we want, we get it. Most of us no longer correlate hard work with what we have. So naturally when we receive a gift from others, we don’t think about the hard work that went into earning the money to buy that gift. And maybe, maybe that’s why thanking others is a lost form. I don’t know. Am I reaching? All I know is that back in our grandparents’ time, you didn’t buy something you couldn’t afford. And you were grateful for everything you had, whether you earned it yourself or whether it was given to you. Nothing was expected — it was earned. And they didn’t send crummy thank-you notes. They thanked you with a freaking homemade pie.
So what’s our deal? What do you think has contributed to society being less thankful? Do you see it as a problem? Should I save some time and stop sending thank-you notes?
I am not sure why people don’t say thank you as often! I remember ALWAYS having to sit down after a birthday and write notes to my aunts and uncles etc. Nowadays I do still send cards for something out of the ordinary, or for our wedding (and I anticipate I will when we have a baby). But for Christmas our family generally would call someone and thank them if we didnt see them. I no longer expect a thank you card, but I must say I do get tickled when something other than a bill shows up in my mail box!
When I was a kid, if I didn’t write my grandma and great-grandma thank you notes, I wasn’t going to get a birthday gift the next year. That’s just the way it worked. Now that I’m starting to give gifts, I can count on one hand — ok, two fingers — the number of thank you notes I’ve received. And I’m actually ok with that.
Like you, wedding + baby have been our mandatories. We haven’t done as hot on birthdays + Christmas.
“Should I save some time and stop sending thank-you notes?”
No way, Jose!!! 🙂
You know why I find your blog so entertaining and enjoyable to read? Besides all the interesting topics that you guys find time to write about, both of you always take the time to post a reply to each of your readers’ comments. I consider that in itself to be a nice “thank you” in that you make the effort of acknowledgement. Many other bloggers don’t bother and their blogs gradually lose appeal in that I feel that they just like to blather on in order to see their own views in print. So here’s my “thank you” back to you guys for that.
You raise an interesting topic – entitlement. There’s a lot of mess in the world today (so what else is new, eh?). The NIMBY (not in my back yard) crowd, the me-first crowd, the 1% crowd, the special interest group crowd, the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses crowd, the self-absorbed crowd, etc. etc. Basic politeness, consideration, tact, co-operation, manners, maturity all seem to be more and more in short supply. Is it any wonder that today’s government parties – worldwide – not just in the U.S. and Canada, are so dysfunctional and confrontational so that nothing worthwhile gets done. They merely represent their divergent supporters, their special interest groups, those who possess an inordinate amount of “entitlement” but often act in cross purposes to one another.
When I read about how you guys would send out gifts each year and receive almost no thank you’s in return, I’m reminded of my 93 y/o M-I-L (who lives with us) who often in past years every Christmas used to send out little $5 gift envelopes to all her grand kids and great grand kids – all 25 of them ! – and receive maybe 2 or 3 thank-you replies. I’m sure that it didn’t bother her much but it was (I’m sure) duly noted – a strike against both the kids as well as the parents who raised them.
So, as to what has contributed to a society being less thankful?
Materialism, relative increased wealth, self absorption, over consumption, and so it goes.
Yes, it is a problem. One that each of us needs to continually work on, myself included.
So Thank youuuu! 🙂
Thanks, Rob! As far as responding to comments, we feel if someone takes the time out of their day to read whatever nonsense we’ve cooked up AND comment on our blog, they definitely deserve a few minutes of our time to respond. And it’s more fun to have two-way conversations anyway.
I agree on all counts with what has contributed to our pretty unthankful generation. We take a lot for granted. And we’re pretty guilty of it, too. But the first step in correcting it is acknowledging it. So here’s to making it past step one and actually doing something about it.
I am awful at thank you notes, but it seems that my friends are just as bad or even worse. I think if the gift is given to me physically, I can express my heartfelt thanks to that person. Or, if it’s sent in the mail, I immediately call or email to follow up. Is another card necessary?
I have a stack of thank you cards that I do send out, but truth be told, it’s kind of difficult. I don’t think this extends just to thank you cards. When’s the last time any of us sent a “Congratulations!” card or even a “Happy birthday” card? It’s so easy to send a gift via Amazon and attach a note.
Am I lazy? You can tell me I am.
If thanks is expressed in person or via phone/email, I think you’re good.
I rely heavily on the Facebook birthday calendar. And so most anyone who’s not family gets a “Happy birthday man” on their wall as my present to them. Generous, eh?
You’re not lazy — you’re efficient.
I am a big believer in thank you notes (and I still say that after my year of showers/weddings/holiday thank you note overload!) I think it is so important to take a few moments to express thanks to someone who went out of their way you get or do something nice for you — and once I overcome the mental exhaustion of thinking about writing one, in reality it DOES only take a minute or two. It’s one of those courtesies that unfortunately seem to be becoming antiquated, but I will sure be making my children carry on the tradition.
I remember vividly the wedding thank you note phase. And I remember trying to argue that we should just type up and print out a standardized card that had lines to fill in the blank for name and gift. Joanna didn’t go for it. But in the end, I think she (and you) are/were right to go it the old-fashioned route.
While it is nice to get cards in the mail, I personally think they are a waste of paper and money. I would much rather just get an email saying thanks. Technology is a good and bad thing. It makes communicating easier but people lazier. It I ever get married I do not plan on sending paper invites. It will be electronic invites and I’m ok with people thinking that is poor manners. I only plan on inviting people really close to me and all those people know how I am with technology. I suppose for the people who don’t use computers I will have to go the old fashioned route and just call them and invite them. That’s about as old fashioned as I get.
I do think the younger generation including my age has a lot of people who feel entitled. I don’t know if it’s from bad parenting or what but what happened to having to work for what you want?
Also, I just moved to Utah and people are so much nicer here than anything I am used to. Strangers say hi and have a good day. People at the bank hold the door open for me when I leave. It’s those little things that people just aren’t doing anymore. It’s sad.
I’m cool with emailed thanks. Not a prob. When it comes to wedding invites/baby announcements, I still dig paper. I’m a big print and letterpress fan, so I’ve grown to love the art of printing. There’s something to be said of receiving something tangible and seeing the time and effort that went into making something. I know it can be achieved digitally, but never at the same level.
We spent our college days in Utah, so we know well the niceness of the state. It’s definitely refreshing.
Keep sending them! Manners should never degrade with the rest of society. We send hand written thank yous for grandparents and peeps that live far away in the mail. I hand write, but hand out thank yous to those I see on a fairly regular basis because, lets face it, when my stationary is cheaper than a stamp – no thanks. Sometimes a simple email thank you will do, but to really show someone you appreciate their efforts, why not take a little more time to personalize it? A huge part of why people no longer say thank you is definitely entitlement. If you hadn’t used the word, I would have. I’ll spare you my political thoughts! 😉
Haha. Maybe we’ll do an overtly political post just to get you to spill your feelings. 🙂
Agree on all counts. We hand out cards to coworkers, local friends/family to save on cost and have an excuse to see them. But pen and paper will always mean more than digital type. At least for our generation and those prior.
Where I feel people have become so relaxed about thank you notes, I still believe they should be sent. Having had three babies in the past 4 years and getting married the year before that I have written my share of thank you notes. It is time consuming and definitely more so my personalizing each note, but it is worth it. I would rather send a note and have people receive it than not do it at all. I would also, always try to mention the gift in the note and how we would use it or how the kids loved it. I even write notes for my kids birthdays and when they are old enough they will do it.
Definitely personalize the note as well. I remember a thank you note I received that doubled as a birth announcement. I get it, a new parent, not lots of time. However, the thank you note was for the shower gift which was about two months before baby arrived and I gave them a hand made blanket. Not only did it take up a ton of time that I did not have with having a new born and a 2 year old but it was a personal and thoughtful gift. A beauitful blanket. It was at the moment that I received the thank you note/birth announcement that had a printed, “Thank you for the gift,” that I vowed to myself to always send a note, not an email or a text, a written note that had more than thank you for the baby book or serving plate, but also how kind it was and a little more. I also wanted the blanket back for my new baby girl.
You’re the thank you note queen, Laura! That’s awesome! I am always in awe of our very few friends and family members who always, without fail, send us a handwritten thank you note.
I don’t think I’ve ever expected a thank you note for a gift I’ve given, but I’ve definitely felt that same sting as you did with your blanket when I felt my gesture was under-appreciated. And those feelings are definitely magnified for something as thoughtful (especially given the circumstances) as that gift.
I always send thank you notes for birthday gifts, and for most Christmas gifts, and sometimes, just because! Now that I have a 2 year old little girl who likes to “color”, she makes a pretty drawing on all of the cards we send to sign them! I want her to grow up to be thankful, and that means practicing what I preach!
That’s such an awesome idea! We’ve received a few drawings on cards from our nieces and they are the best. I’ve never thought about the lessons that my nieces are learning doing it though, because I’m too busy putting it up on our fridge. Awesome idea, Jen. Hope you don’t mind us borrowing it.
Interesting post. I think you should continue your thank you note tradition. It’s a good one and maybe 1/15 people will return the favor one day, but I bet 15/15 enjoy getting a little note to acknowledge that you enjoyed their gift and appreciate the thought.
I think the availability of credit has made people less thankful. I can go get a loan to buy just about anything. I think it’s a problem that having debt is “normal” and “necessary.” If you take the time to scrape together $30k for a new car rather than going to the bank and asking for $30k that you’ll pay down over 60 months you tend to appreciate it more.
True that. I definitely think the prevalence of credit use in our country has played a big role in expectations and appreciation.
Back in the day if you got a gift, you knew that Aunt Bertha used some of what little money she had to get you something. The mindset today would be, “That’s cool of her, but I’d rather just have the money.”
I agree that electronic communications have contributed to the downfall of physical thank you cards. People are busier than ever and also tend to associate thank you cards as an old-fashioned tradition. I agree with all those who say you should definitely send thank you cards. A friend asked me to help her take photos at her daughter’s birthday party, and I feel a bit jilted that she didn’t send a thank you. I’m guilty though, of not always observing proper etiquette. My future mother-in-law sent us a candy basket for Valentine’s Day, and I emailed her instead of sending a card…
I think so long some form of thank you is expressed, whether digitally or card or phone, you’re good. And I feel like a gift is given in person (like you taking photos) and a thank you is expressed after the party, that’s probably not enough. Shoot them a written thank you for good measure. I’ve probably been guilty of not doing that a few times, but you can never be too thankful.
The traditionalist in me loves sending and receiving them, but the tree-hugger side doesn’t like all the paper products involved in it so has sent less out throughout the years. I think for special occasions it’s a thoughtful gesture, but maybe a thankful phone call for the annuals (holidays, birthdays) would be sufficient? That’s where I’m drawing the line, at least.
I think a thank you phone call is just fine for the standard gift-giving days. I’m a sucker for paper products and printed work. I obsess over paper types and letterpress and all that stuff, so while I respect the tree hugger aspect, special occasions are deserving of a tree or two. Especially if it’s on recycled paper.
We are losing more than just “Thank you’s”, but also just general compassion, respect, and dignity in our society. People just don’t care anymore and want to make sure that they keep themselves happy. It is sad to see, but I am not sure what we can do about it.
It starts with acknowledging the problem. And then I think all that you can do is try to affect your sphere of influence. Compassion, respect, and kindness have the tendency to be contagious.
I think it’s important to send thank-you notes, especially for wedding, birthday, baby-shower, etc. gifts. People appreciate them even more today (because they are becoming rarer). I think doing them in a timely manner is smart as well. I know many, many couples who got married and sent out their thank-you notes over a year later. It makes it seem like thanking you is their absolute last priority.
A year later is getting pretty dated. I thought we were pretty slow at 2-3 months later, so that makes me feel better. But you’re right that as time moves on, they’ll probably be more appreciated and rarer.
I send thank you cards after events, like our wedding (and I will for baby showers, and baby birthday parties, etc) and for special things, like dogsitting our dog, writing me a letter of recommendation, or doing a favor (like scoring me a discount at a store where they work). I don’t send thank you cards for Christmas or birthday (I just say thank you when they hand me the gift). For my close family, most of the time I will call and say thank you rather than sending a card. Maybe my momma raised me right?
I think these days a thank you card is definitely nice to receive, but not mandatory. While I wouldn’t look down on someone for not sending a thank you card, I would think more highly of someone who DID send a card.
Momma raised you right indeed. That’s awesome. And what you said at the end about thinking more highly of someone who does send one is exactly how I feel. Because of how few we receive, we never think twice when someone doesn’t send one. But if they do, it’s such a welcomed surprise that those people win major gold stars.
I guess I am going to be the odd ball out. I don’t mean to upset anyone, but personally (just my opinion) I don’t think anyone should expect anything back from a gift. The whole point of giving is to share without expecting anything back. That is where the joy comes in. If we start expecting thank you’s and such we have just turned a great thing into a resentful moment.
I understand old traditions are hard to break. I also realize that we should try to thank others for what they give. However, I find so much more joy in giving just for giving – no acknowledgement needed.
What?! How dare you disagree with our (right) opinion!
Actually, I think you’re right. There should be no expectation. If a gift is given, it should probably be given with the assumption you’ll never get any acknowledgement for having done so. Would it be nice to hear “thanks” or receive a thank you note. You better believe it. But that should be icing on the cake.
Admittedly, this is probably something I need to work on accepting.
While I do appreciate receiving the rare thank you card and enjoy giving them out, I agree strongly with this thought. I’ve always thought that gift-giving should be focused on making someone happy. If you expect something in return (or feel entitled to a thank you), I always thought it showed you weren’t focused on the person to whom you gave the gift.
Question though, what would you do in a situation where someone gave you a gift that you really don’t plan on using ever (and are probably just going to take to Goodwill because you feel like someone else should at least get use out of it)? For example, when we got married my husband and I were very careful with our registry. We didn’t want to select items we didn’t need, and since we were both poor college students, we tried to just focus on the necessities. While a lot of people were really kind and helpful with their gift-giving, there were several who gave random things that we had to return or donate (one gift came with a note that said, “You probably won’t want these, but…”). A very opinionated family member even gave us a gift she knew we wouldn’t like, in an effort to change our minds. I don’t want to sound ungrateful; we really did appreciate the time it took for people to earn that money and for thinking of us as well. But it was really hard to write a sincere thank you note when it felt like they were giving us items they had kept in storage for decades and found while cleaning out their basement.
I guess my question is should thank you notes be given even when it’s not sincere? Isn’t that lying? Since these people maybe weren’t gift-giving with the best intent, wouldn’t a thank you note reinforce that behavior?
I am completely in support of good manners – you know, holding doors for whomever is behind you, good table manners, treating others the way you want to be treated, and stepping up an doing things for others because it’s the considerate thing to do and for no other reason.
I do have a bit of a problem with the whole paper based communication process. I absolutely agree with expressing your gratitude – I just don’t think it must involve paper to count. No matter how digital we’ve all gone, most people still mail physical wedding invitations because it’s the “right thing to do”. It’s still considered the proper way to invite someone to an important event. Likewise, “proper” written thank yous should follow. But for me that’s the end of it. If gifts are exchanged in person I thank the person directly (and our kids have been trained to do likewise without us prompting them). If I receive something by mail, or someone does something thoughtful for me, I make a phone call and use the excuse of thanking them to do a little catching up.
The idea of getting stationnery, driving to the post office to buy a stamp and physically mailing it seems an ineffective way to thank someone. At best the written thank you will take 3 days to reach them. If someone needs to be thanked, I prefer to do it immediately. To me, the thank you is more important than the method of getting your message to the recipient. Last time I bought one, a stamp here was over 60cents. With our long distance plan at 2 cents a minute, I can have a lovely 30 minute conversation with Great Aunt Maud for for the same price and don’t have to risk life and limb on winter roads to get to the post office, and she doesn’t have to risk the icy sidewalk going to get her mail. I used to make an effort to sent thank you cards to my elderly relatives since I felt that was what they expected and appreciated. Then one aunt let it slip that her eyesight wasn’t great anymore and she had to wait and get other people to read her mail to her. She hated that a nice gesture only served to remind her of her loss of independence. From that moment on I started calling her and she has often mentioned how much she enjoys those calls and hearing all about the family news. We cover far more ground in a conversation than would ever be included in a thank you note.
Just my 2 cents.
You make really good points here. If you want to thank someone when you receive something a phone is amazing and almost more personal. I think thank you notes are needed, however, not just because. In my response I noted how I received a generic thank you note – doing it just to do it. If your going to do it, do it right. A phone call is a great thank you.
I agree with you on most points. Funny story that relates. So an aunt of mine sent our Baby Girl a really nice church dress and some onesies. Totally unexpected and really thoughtful. Well Joanna was planning on writing and sending off thank you notes in the next day or two, so we decided to hold off on shooting them an email or phone call because everything we’d want to thank them for would be in that formal note. Well, the thank you notes got delayed a few days. And then a week. And then by that point, I felt terrible that they might not even be aware that we’d received the package, so we wrote them a Facebook message letting them know the situation with the thank you note, but thanked them profusely for the gift. And then a couple days later, we sent the thank you notes. 🙂
So we probably overcomplicated it, but we’re sticklers for traditional whenever possible.
Getting stuff ready for my wedding, and sending out invites and getting thank you notes ready has really made me think about this. I mean even the idea of sending a paper invitation is sort of out-dated now, and same with thank you notes, but I don’t think it should be. Same with Christmas cards. No one my age sends them out, but I think it’s such a nice gesture, I don’t want it to fade out in our generation.
We’ll be right there with ya sending our Christmas cards, baby announcements, and invites. For me, it’s all about receiving something tangible. It shows effort and craft and thought. It just means more. To me, at least. It’s probably this very reason why I’ve started getting into music records. With MP3’s now, there’s no tangible experience with the music anymore.
I’ve been reading yesterday’s comments (and Johnny’s late overnight replies – man, you sure “work” late around here – lol) and I just wanted to add one more thought on the thank you note matter. Like Johnny and Joanna, my wife and I tend to go the paper route approach when it involves personal thank you notes (business and impersonal thank you’s can efficiently better be handled by phone calls and/or emails), the reason being – paper thank you’s can be retained by the recipient much longer (over the years, if desired) than can phone calls or emails (which often are quickly forgotten). Grandmas and grandpas especially appreciate them and (like Johnny) lovingly stick some of them on their fridges. Been there, done that – and so may many of you younger guys one day! 🙂
Those are all great points about hand-written notes. I love that they’re tangible and, therefore, a bit more meaningful. My kids are going to think I’m sooooo old-fashioned when I make them hand write thank-you notes!
Those posters oddly remind me of Brave New World for some reason. Even though they have the opposite meaning, I keep thinking “Ending is better than mending.”
I was just harping on this to my co-workers the other day. It irks me to no end when I send a gift to someone (wedding, new baby, Christmas, birthday or whatever) and never hear a word from them. Unless I have a tracking number I don’t even know if they received it unless I ask them! I find it extremely extremely rude and it definitely gets remembered for the next gift giving event. I don’t care if I receive an acknowledgement via text/email/phone or in person instead of a hand written note but I do think there should be some sort of acknowledgement that you at least got the thing. You can tell me you don’t like it (that brings up a whole other principle on manners) but at least let me know you got it. Personally I think sending a written thank you note is the least I can do when someone takes the time to send me a gift. Sometimes it takes me a little bit to get to with everything I’m trying to juggle but I think it’s important and it’s definitely something I want to pass on to my kids. . Just recently I sent a massive load of Christmas and new baby gifts half way around the world to family and never heard a word that it was received. Eventually one of the gifts showed up in a skype between them and another family member and that other family member let me know that one of the presents had at least been seen so I had some hope that the boxes had all shown up. To say that I was peeved would be an understatement. There have been multiple occasions where I organized a group of us to go in on some large wedding & baby gifts and took the time to collect the money, arrange to pick up the present and get it to them. Never heard a word from any of the individuals who received the gift. It appears to be a dying art. Shamefully.
Jen, your comment really struck a chord with me. Like I said in my post, I don’t care one way or the other if we receive hand-written thank-you notes from others. But it really does bug when I send a gift to someone and I never even know whether they got it. Unfortunately, this has happened a lot, and Johnny gets to hear me rant every time. 😉 I’ve started just texting the person once it’s been a week or two and asking them if they got it so I don’t have to keep worrying that it got lost in the mail! I feel kind of bad asking but not bad enough to not do it. 🙂
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