How to write a Thank You note

About 27 years ago, my Great Grandma Florence gave my mom a spider plant. She forbade Mom from thanking her because a gifted plant dies when thanks follow. Mom smiled, Grandma smiled, and so it was. All that needed to be said was spoken in the creases at the edges of Grandma’s eyes and Mom’s humbled nod to the left and sweeping glance down as her eyes touched the plant’s tender leaves in the Mason jar she held in her hands.

I want to shout “thank you” about 43 times a day, on average. To the friendly cafe barista who patiently waits for me to decide: Americano or cocoa caliente. To the friend who calls, unexpected, just to let me know she is thinking about me. Brigette. To the colleague who spends a few extra minutes to talk with me on the phone about something that could easily have been transmitted via email. Time is, after all, money. To the man who helped me descend into the U Street Metro station with my heavy bags. Chivalry lives. To the firm partner who saw a light in me and invested in my potential to have a significant impact on the organization. He hired me over all the other eager, well-positioned candidates. To the mentor who encouraged me to step confidently onto what appeared to be the glassy surface of an unsure sea of salt water. What did she that I was blind to? To the lover who said nothing and just wrapped his strong arms around me while I cried in grief. Oh, the love in a silent embrace.

How to express thanks when words seem too small, too fragile, too shallow? Write them. Find a coffee shop napkin and lay down some ink. Select a perfect card and start scribbling what comes to mind.

Thank you for…
Your kindness made me feel…
When I consider your gift of thoughtfulness, I…
You have a special way of…
I appreciate…
I so enjoyed…
What I love about you is…

You see, it’s not simply saying “thank you” that makes someone swoon, unless of course you withhold gratitude and the mere existence of the phrase is a miracle dripping off your lips. To drive a stake of gratitude into the ribcage of someone you appreciate, take the time to write down your thoughts as if to etch them into the fabric of eternity so she can touch, taste, and treasure them like heirloom china.

Open up that buried trunk of treasures that lives in your chest. Describe what’s inside to who’s on the outside so that who’s on the outside begins to know your insides. Just write. If your written words are sticky like cotton candy on your cheeks, warm like hot cocoa sipped when the early snow blows, or pouty and soft like a newborn’s lower lip… lick the stamp and drop them in the mailbox. They are the perfect words.

I didn’t write a thank you note to the guy at the Metro station, but I did look him square in the eyes and smile when I thanked him for helping me. I didn’t write a thank you note to the friendly barista who smiled as she waited for my decision this morning, but I sent a note to her boss and described how her attitude made me feel welcome at the coffee shop, a favor I will return by returning. Presenting gratitude is a way of living, a way of breathing, a way of serving humanity.

A baby spider from the one Grandma Florence gave to my mom. Thanks forbidden.

Sometimes, gratitude is to words what the forest is to a pine needle. It’s quietly, lovingly watering a plant for 27 years, each time remembering the generous soul who first planted it. It’s snipping baby spiders and placing them in your daughter’s hands – without the return of spoken thanks – so that Grandma’s gift lives in her home alongside her tenderly taught generosity and kindness. Living gratitude is life giving. Write it. Mail it. Plant it. Harvest it. Share it. Sing it. Dance it. Bake it. Smile it. Water it.

And pass it on.


Writing wonderful thank you notes doesn’t require practice.  It just requires being thankful and sharing your thoughts. It’s super easy and you’ll notice the more grateful you feel, the quicker you write! Consider this one which only took about three minutes to write just now:

Dearest Karen,

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my career. Where it began, where it’s going, why and how and when it came to be. The first yellow brick in the long winding road that I travel today was placed under my feet in the fall of 1994 when I walked into your office as a wide-eyed, eager, clueless college freshman. You saw in me what I didn’t see in myself. You chose me for challenge, for growth and service. You demonstrated the generosity of a mentor, the curiosity of a student, and the diligence of a teacher when you asked me to work in your office and gave me projects and tasks, when you asked for my opinions and ideas.

Thank you for changing the course of my life by introducing me to the important work of creating environments where opportunities are born for the unlikely and fragile communities thrive within formalized organizations. Thank you for teaching me how to love on people in places that value money over love, dollars and cents over common sense. Thank you for being my mentor, my coach, my friend. I treasure you, the memories we share (I still have the one of me propped up on the overstuffed suitcase in Mexico like a bird on a huge egg!), and the role you’ve played in my life. I promise to pass it on.



5 thoughts on “How to write a Thank You note

  1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Seong. There have been times in my life when I’ve been at events and I wanted to run away because I didn’t feel like I belonged there, because no one spoke to me. I have been shy in my life; I know how uncomfortable it can be. I think that’s why I decided to never allow someone to feel the way I did during those times. It means the world to me that it made a difference to you. It all gets a little bit easier when one realizes that we’re all the same and everyone likes to be greeted and welcomed, even if by complete strangers. Indeed, it’s one of the fastest ways to turn a stranger into a friend. After awhile, you never walk into a room of strangers because strangers quickly become friends in nearly an instant. Be well, my friend.

    • I remember when I first met you at ALPFA GALA in Seattle. It was my first time attending a profession’s event. I was so shy and afraid to talk to anyone there that I was sitting at a dinner table silently, but you reached out to me and talked to me very kindly. I wasn’t afraid anymore, but enjoyed talking to you. I just want to say thank you for kindness. You taught me how to network casually yet professionally.

  2. Very nice. It’s the little things people forget to thank others for. You wrote it beautifully. And, I do remember when my aunts, your grandma included, put plants in canning jars.

    • In my work, I commonly lead conference calls and most the time there are questions, comments, and discussion. It’s the calls when no one says a word when I question whether I was effective or if I did something wrong. Thank you for your comment! I love the feedback, Joan, and for fanning the flame of the familial relationship that was cool for far too many years for no other reason than distance and busy lives. It’s wonderful, the warmth.

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