ThinkKit Day 24: What are you thankful for? Maybe it’s from this year – or maybe it’s something in your past that resonated with you recently. And – we hold people, places, and things in equal regard: a sense of gratefulness can take many forms.

Saying thank you is extremely important. Acknowledging someone’s kindness and thoughtfulness is part of the giving process. I get it. I know this, intellectually.

But practically, thank you notes are a thorn in my side.

My kids’ birthdays are all two weeks a part (16 Oct/31 Oct/17 Nov). So, when they were little, we would have one big birthday party for the family. I would make cute invitations with all three boys on them and invite the crew of 25 or so over to celebrate. Each kid would have his own cake and we would sing happy birthday three times. It was so fun; those were some great memories.

One year, after the party, I remember lamenting to my mother that in addition to all the other things that were making me stressed out, I still hadn’t sent thank you notes for the boys’ birthday gifts from the party.

“So don’t,” she said. The idea seemed impossible to me. I mean, how could I not send a note? Certainly people would notice and would think badly of me for not following etiquette.

“Really?” she persisted. I had convinced myself that in fact, really, they would notice. I sent thank you notes because you had to, right?

She convinced me that something had to give and this was an easy thing to let go of. I let go. I resigned myself from the idea that I was going to actually complete the thank you notes. I threw away the stack of cards I had before me that needed writing. I crossed it off my list and moved on. It helped relieve some stress.

Guess what? I don’t think anyone noticed. At least, no one called me up and asked where their thank you note was. And, even more proof of this fact is that they kept coming to the birthday parties and bringing gifts. They were giving to give—not to get a thank you note. Huh.

Emily Posts says thank you notes for gifts are only really necessary when you are not there to thank the person in person. I make sure as often as I can that I repeatedly thank the person—in person—for their thoughtfulness and kindness of a gift, of hosting us for dinner, of whatever…I hug and thank and look in the eye and show my appreciation.

Now, what if you are not in front of the person when you get the gift? I understand the need for a thank you note. In addition to thanking the person, the note also represents confirmation that whatever was sent has in fact been received. But I am not picky about what form this acknowledgement takes: card, email, text, whatever.

But writing a note for a gift I receive in front of someone for a regular gift-giving event like a birthday? I have let that one slide—almost completely except when absolutely necessary. And, before you get all high and mighty, I do make my kids write thank you notes for gifts they receive if they have a birthday party and their friends bring gifts. Why? Because they must first learn what is expected, then they can decide how they respond to those expectations and how much value they place on meeting the expectations of others.

Thank you notes have come to represent—for me—a formality only reserved for strangers, or acquaintances but not meaningful friends and family. I think to think that friends and family are okay with me spending time on things I want to do instead of what I have to do; I want the same for them. Sometimes, something has to give, people. And if I can’t cross “feed boys dinner” off my list, but I can cross “write thank you note” off my list, I know which one I will pick.

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