My introduction to thank-you notes as a kid was rather formal, primly fenced in by the parameters of good manners and etiquette. I grew up hand-writing thank-you notes to friends after birthday parties, to family members after holidays, to teachers at the end of the school year. I learned that after weddings, the newlyweds traditionally have one month to send their guests thank-you notes. I wrote thank-you notes with relish and monogrammed stationery. As I grew older, I was careful to follow up important interviews with a personalized thank-you note, carefully abiding by the old standard that email is passable, but handwritten cards are golden.
I have always loved thank-you notes as a means of expressing gratitude. Gratitude, or the expression thereof, was an honored virtue in a kid, particularly by those adults who were quick to assume no child practiced the fine art of appreciation. Yet my instruction in politeness left me thinking that only special circumstances or gestures necessitated thank-you notes. How disappointing to a kid with a penchant for practicing her penmanship.
Blogger Leah Dieterich has quashed this assumption for me. “THXTHXTHX: A Thank You Note a Day” is a project Dieterich created in which she writes roughly one thank-you note a day for, well, everything. She has covered the big and small, animate and inanimate, sacred and profane, quotidian and remarkable. Each handwritten entry is compiled on a website where Dieterich has cataloged hundreds of thank-you notes for easy reading. From “Songs You’re Embarrassed to Like” and “Instances Where I Don’t Have my Camera,” to “Radiator in Our New Place” and “Skype,” nothing is too specific or too trivial to warrant a thank-you note from her.
It is a true experiment in and tribute to gratitude — with profound results. One might even posit that many of her notes are directed at those mundane things most people would categorize as “unthankable”: things that are, at first glance, a bit of a drag, like broken glass or a hangover. Yet even those notes are life affirming and insightful in their earnestness, thanks to Dieterich’s knack for putting a positive spin on things. And while the entries are charmingly personal, their underlying sentiments are universal to the human experience.
Gratitude is something that I have always worked hard to put into practice. My parents instilled within me at a young age the notion that gratitude should be a kind of worldview. Gratitude is not merely the act of being thankful, but rather the readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. It’s a life lesson that I’m still grateful for. I am fortunate in that it is easy for me to enumerate things I am thankful for in my life: the love of my family and friends, my health, the chance to go to college, and these days, the blessed fact that I still have a whole year left on the Hilltop. But Dieterich’s approach is compelling because it has a narrower focus — the more nuanced elements of life, the true power of the little things. It eschews the trite and delves into the creative.
And so I’ve been giving some thought to what thank-you notes I would craft as part of this project. For instance: “Dear Wisey’s, Thank you so much for now serving your sublimely delicious breakfast sandwiches until 1 p.m. on weekends. This is simply brilliant, because you and I both know getting my order in by 11 a.m. was just not going to happen. Gratefully, Margaret.” “Dear Healy Lawn in warm weather, Thanks for making studying outside in the springtime so tantalizing with your grassy knolls and shady patches. Why aren’t any of the [Georgetown University Student Association] candidates proposing a more temperate climate as a means to increase study space for students on campus? Best, Margaret.”
The idea that anything is fair game to be both personified and explicitly thanked is exhilarating — you should try it! It also completely negates my former, limited use of thank-you notes. It’s like my parents (and Leah Dieterich, evidently) always said: Thank-you notes are important.
Margaret Delaney is a junior in the College and a community member on The Hoya’s board of directors. She can be reached at [email protected]. I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE appears every other Tuesday.