“What do you say?”

How often do you prompt your kids to say thank you? Saying thank you in the moment when somebody holds the door for you or hands you a cookie is important. Saying—writing—thank you for a gift still matters.

And there are moments that call us to say thank you, not for a gift or one particular act, but for ongoing action or what somebody means in your life.

With the end of the school year wrapping up and Father’s Day a month away, this is a great time to think about the people in your life you want to say thank you to.

Why to Write a Thank You Letter

Letters do take more time to write but are more lasting than an email or a tweet or a text. They are a physical thing that you can hold in your hand and read again and again. Sometimes it seems letters are a thing of the past, and perhaps that’s part of why they mean so much.

Thank you letters make the recipient feel appreciated and seen. They let them know that they made a difference. And on a bad day, they are a reminder of the good they have done and why they do what they do.

Writing thank you letters can make you feel good too. Expressing gratitude can actually make you happier. Why wouldn’t you want to write a gratitude letter?

How to Write a Thank You Letter

A lot of people just don’t know how to get started. Once they say “Thank you” or “You’re a great dad” or “I really loved being in your class this year,” they don’t know what else to add.

This is where your stories come in, the specific stories that show what the person meant to you and how they affected you. 

Think about your dad or another father figure in your life. Try answering these questions:

  • How do you feel when you think about this person?
  • What do your remember most about this person?
  • What do you remember doing with this person? (Get specific—instead of canoeing together, think about the time you went canoeing in the dark and saw so many stars)
  • What details can you add about that experience? (The glitter of the stars, the plop of a fish jumping, the quiet shhhh as the canoe glided through the water, the way your dad tugged on the straps of your life vest before you set out …)
  • Why does this moment stand out to you? What does it say about your dad or your relationship? What have you carried away from that moment?

You could answer similar questions for a teacher or another person who matters in your life.

These stories and details make your letter deeply personal and meaningful. Once you have these ideas, I have a simple formula to help put them together. I call it SMILE.

S Start with feelings

Start with how the person you are thanking made you feel. But do not say thank you yet.

M Mention the support or how they made you feel

Mention what they did for you or how they made you feel and why the support mattered to you. Now say thank you.

I Include details

Include details of about the support.

L Lavish them with more detail or examples

Lavish them with another detail or a story that shows how the support has made you feel or made your life better or easier or more fun or rich.

E Express gratitude

End by expressing gratitude. This ending can be quite simple.

Once you get into it, writing thank you notes can be quite fun and gratifying.

Want more help with writing letters? You’ll love my free e-Book, 5 Easy Steps to Writing a Great Thank You Note. You’ll learn a simple, satisfying process that you can use again and again to share gratitude for gifts and kind acts with the special people in your life.