The Act of Giving Thanks

Michelle Lee - Longmont, Colorado
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, October 27, 2014
Michelle Lee

No gift, dinner invitation, or gesture of friendship escapes Michelle Lee’s notice. As a dedicated thank-you-note writer, Lee believes expressing gratitude is more than a social grace. It helps her fully appreciate the love and support she receives daily.

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: gratitude

I believe in meaningful expressions of gratitude. More specifically, I believe in the power of the well-written thank-you letter.

My sister and I were taught at a very early age to write thank-you letters for birthday and Christmas gifts. We carefully copied addresses from our mom’s address book into our own pretty little books, and a new box of stationery was always among my gifts wrapped under the tree. We wrote our letters on December 26. At the latest. Every year. It was an important ritual in our home, and it has turned me into an avid thank-you-letter writer as an adult.

I still send a great deal of personal mail, and I am entirely smitten with all of the trappings of letter writing: unique stamps, beautiful stationery, fountain pens. I feel an incredible rush of satisfaction sticking a stamp on a carefully penned thank-you letter and sending it off in the mail.

Nearly every Monday morning I sit down with my favorite pen and write a few thank-yous. I write them for parties I attend, dinners I’m fed, or just to thank a friend for listening. It is one of the highlights of my week.

Several years ago I even sent my mom a thank-you letter to thank her for teaching me to count my blessings on paper. Sending letters of thanks out into the world has made me more appreciative of the tremendous love, support, and kindness I receive daily.

My father died when I was twenty-seven. Even then, I found comfort in writing letters of thanks for the many gifts of words I received. At a time when all I wanted to do was retreat into my own grief, the act of giving thanks forced me to stay connected to the world and to the lives of the living.

And while it may seem trivial, my belief in well-written thank-you letters has secured my popularity. Since real thank-you letters are woefully few and far between, my social graces are considered a charming eccentricity, and my friends and family always seem genuinely moved by my efforts.

I was a middle school English teacher, and as I told my students, good manners are the cornerstone of a quality community. I believe that expressions of gratitude like thank-you letters keep me going. I am more motivated to do kind things for others when I feel appreciated, and I feel that I perpetuate kindness and generosity by genuinely expressing my thanks.

What many people consider to be a dreadful chore has become one of my favorite pastimes. So simple, the thank-you letter, but so powerful.

Michelle Lee is a writer, editor, and former middle school English teacher from Longmont, Colorado. When not playing around with words, she loves to cook, spend time with her two children, play cribbage with her husband, and tackle the New York Times crossword puzzle.