Episode 63: The Problem of Passwords, Why Rewards Can Be Dangerous, and Does Elizabeth Have to Write These Thank-You Notes?

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: Big news! (At least for me.) I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. I talk to viewers about questions, comments, suggestions. Any episode; don’t worry if you’re not caught up. You can watch the most recent one here or my video with our producer Henry, look here. If you want to join the conversation live, I’m doing them on Tuesdays at 1:00 pm Eastern. Join in! It’s so fun to have a chance to talk to listeners and viewers.

Try This at Home: In episode 61, we asked listeners for answers to Emily’s question about how to manage online passwords.  The answer: have a strategy.

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: The Strategy of Rewards is a very, very tricky strategy to use. People often mis-use rewards when they’re trying to create a habit.

If you want the checklist for habit change, it’s here, at the bottom of the list.

Listener Question: Nine-year-old Isobel asks “How can we be happier while taking tests?” The book I mention is Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth didn’t write thank-you notes after Jack’s birthday party. I contest this demerit!

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I used the Strategy of Scheduling to work on my Four Tendencies quiz. (You can take it here to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.)

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 25% off window treatments and a free in-home design consultation.

Also check out Casper, the online retailer of premium mattresses. Pay a fraction of what you’d pay in the store, get free delivery, and returns within a 100 day period. Get $50 off a mattress purchase by using the promo code Casper.com/happier.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #63

We love hearing from listeners:

 

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much.

HAPPIER listening!

  • Jennifer R. Bridge

    I send handwritten thank you notes because I love stationery, and my young son loves writing his name on cards–and sending/receiving personalized mail. We make our own, or order personalized cards off Etsy or buy them from Paper Source. It doesn’t feel like a chore to me, but a fun activity. Even with post-kid party thank you notes, I like to imagine the excitement that a little friend of my son’s will feel getting something personally addressed in the mail (like I did as a kid); it almost doesn’t matter to me if they don’t care, because the pleasure for me is in the doing! I don’t mind when other people do not send handwritten thank you notes, but if I’ve given a gift to someone and wasn’t there to see the recipient open it, I do appreciate some kind of an acknowledgement (written note, email, even a text or FB message) just to confirm that they got it and it wasn’t lost in the mail or stolen off the gift table at the party venue (sadly, this happens)–so I can follow up with the shipper or a replacement gift, if need be. I have to say, I was surprised that Gretchen said she thought thank you notes were a waste of time. I know she’s fond of giving (and getting) gold stars, and isn’t receiving a handwritten thank you note one of the loveliest gold stars of all? P.S. I think Stamps.com should give Elizabeth a free scale, so she never has to worry about not having stamps for thank you cards 😉

  • Jennifer

    When I receive a thank you note I consider it a “gold star” for the thought, time, energy, and money that goes into getting someone a gift. My 7 and 9 year old daughters always write thank you notes for every gift they receive, and I find it incredibly rude when I receive no acknowledgement whatsoever for a gift I have given someone or their child.

    Gretchen, maybe it would help you to write thank you notes if you thought someone was waiting for their gold star! :)). Love the podcast!!!!

  • Mimi Gregor

    Although I enjoy getting thank you notes, I equally enjoy thank you e-mails. With the rudification of America (Never mind what spellchecker says; I say rudification is a word!), I am thrilled to get any acknowledgement of any sort for something I’ve given or done. As far as sending them, it depends on the recipient and the context. With my elderly aunt, I send an actual letter. With an acquaintance who invited me to a party via e-mail, I send my thanks via e-mail. I must say that I prefer sending e-mails, because they are immediate, and sometimes you have a little back and forth dialog, which is nice. Also, my handwriting sucks.

  • Pam Hanes

    You’re doing your child no favors at all by not instilling this simple courtesy. In the long run, her personal and professional relationships would benefit if she had a solid understanding of basic social obligations, not to mention an attitude of gratitude.

    “Life is too short to write thank-you notes.” Life is just as short for the person who took the time to buy your kid a present. Their time is just as valuable to them as your special little snowflake’s time is to you.

    • gretchenrubin

      I completely agree about the importance of gratitude and social connection and social obligation.
      The situation here: 30 guests came to a party for a 6-year-old.

      That’s what THESE thank-you notes are for.

      Elizabeth is working crazy hours. So the question is: how should she spend her precious free time?
      Considerations include the burden and significance for the writer of the notes, the significance to the recipient of the note, and the upholding of gracious social customs.
      I absolutely understand why someone thinks that writing thank-you notes is the most significant way Elizabeth could use her free time.
      Given this particular circumstance — myself, I think that other things are more important.
      We all have to figure out our OWN values. Because sometimes, living our values means making trade-offs.
      (Note, I write many thank-you notes! I just wrote one last week, for a dinner party. But if I were in Elizabeth’s shoes, I wouldn’t give myself a demerit for not doing it here.)

      • Manda

        Well said Gretchen 🙂

      • CS

        With all due respect, 30 guests for a 6 y.o. seems excessive. Invite fewer guests, thank yous are more manageable.

        Love the podcast, esp. Elizabeth!

      • JoDi

        I think you missed the point of this comment. She was referring to the part of the podcast where you said you don’t require your children to write thank you notes. Ever? As others have pointed out, teaching your children the habit of gratitude is an important factor in happiness and in cultivating close personal relationships. Writing a thank you note, calling, or emailing to thank someone who took time to give you a gift shows the person that they are important to you. I’m not a stickler for all thank you notes being handwritten, but it does make the gesture more personal.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/fashion/the-found-art-of-thank-you-notes.html?_r=0

  • Manda

    It doesn’t bother me either way. If i get a thank you note, that’s lovely, if i don’t, it doesn’t matter. I also don’t write thank you notes, but will make the effort to let the person know that their gift/time is appreciated (phone call, text, however).

  • Sally

    The ‘thank you note’ conversation was so interesting! I was so surprised to learn that Gretchen isn’t on the thank you note bandwagon! I love writing and receiving notes (thank you or otherwise), but definitely don’t expect them for anyone else. It is something that I enjoy doing and, in the same way I don’t share everyone else’s interests, I don’t expect them to like doing the same things I do. Any form of thank you (letter, text, email, in person, etc) is totally fine!

    Some extra thoughts:
    1. Thank you notes don’t have to be handwritten. Typing them is ok too! (Or a website like Minted can print them for you – upload a photo and type a sentence or two and get them printed as postcards. Super easy and cheap to send too!) Or a phone call or text or anything!
    2. Maybe ‘stamps.com’ could help Elizabeth solve her postage problem? I had to laugh when just a few moments after advertising a convenient postage solution, Elizabeth then said she had a postage problem that she hadn’t been able to solve!
    3. Websites like Paperless Post are an easy way to send a mass email thank you for little time and cost – https://www.paperlesspost.com/cards/category/thank_you_cards

    🙂 Sally

    • Talia

      I agree with Emily Post – Opening the gifts and thanking in person – no note required. Opening after party…note, email, or later verbal thanks required.
      It isn’t the FORM of the Thanks that matters – Handwritten vs. email vs. verbal. What matters is that you acknowledge the love, effort and thought that your friend put into the gift.
      Mass emails “Thanks everybody, but I don’t have time to write you individually” are little better than nothing. I would much rather have heartfelt verbal, “Thank you for bringing your little Maddie to my son’s party. She was such a delight! We love to have her as a guest,” than a written thank you note for a present. It’s more about the connection and the genuine gratitude for friendship. If you can remember what little Maddie brought, and say, “I love that book you gave us! I read it to him all the time!” That engenders a better connection and more happiness.

      The best thing to do is make a gift list for presents not opened at the party and use it to thank the gift givers in person, or by email, or by handwritten letter ( for Grandma). Also consider: Who wants the letter? If great aunt Cindy will treasure my son’s picture he drew just for her, and stick it on the fridge, then she gets a note with a picture. If my busy friend Karen is going to burdened by one more piece of sentimental crap she doesn’t know what to do with, she gets a hug and a verbal Thanks!

  • ali

    Hi Gretchen and Liz – loved the discussion on passwords tips, and wanted to share a little happiness tip for passwords.

    At my workplace, our passwords have to be really long (at least 15 characters) and we have to lock our computers every time we leave the desk – as a result I need a really memorable password that I have to type many times a day. So I try to choose a happiness mantra of some sort so that every time I unlock my screen I have to think of my mantra – like “Make2015agreatyear!” or “Haveyouthankedsomeone2day?”or “take1minutetobreathe”.

  • Laura Jolna

    I’d like to share another perspective on the importance of thank you notes. You mentioned you don’t feel it’s needed and it’s time you’d much rather spend doing something else. If gratitude is a huge part of the happiness factor, I’m not understanding your position on this point.

    I was raised with the understanding that showing thanks and taking the time to write a personal note is an important gesture of gratitude. What about the time the person who gave the gift spent to go out and purchase that gift? Not to mention the thought time involved to consider what an appropriate and fitting gift to get for them?

    I put a lot of thought & time in gift giving and when I don’t receive a thank you note, I can’t help but feel disappointed and that the gesture was not appreciated. Sadly, it is happening more frequently and often from my friend’s children. And, it usually takes me longer to buy gifts for the kids as I have to learn what they like and what they have and don’t have. A better strategy would be to buy thank you cards in advance and make the process of writing them fun for the kids. Perhaps a treat is appropriate in this case.

    • gretchenrubin

      I do write thank you notes in some occasions. I just wrote one last week, as a matter of fact, and got to use my lovely stationery!
      Here, it was a birthday party for a 6-year-old with 30 guests where the (admittedly wrapped) gifts were received in person. Given the reality of that situation, my view is that handwritten thank-you notes would be lovely, but alas I don’t have time for that.
      Other people have other values!

      • Laura Jolna

        Thanks Gretchen! Great topic for discussion and completely agree that we all have our own values. Love the podcast and have listened since the beginning and look forward to it every week. Your research, books and podcast have been transformative in my life and I thank you!

        • gretchenrubin

          Thanks for the kind words!

      • Sophia S

        I could swear one of your mantras is “I have plenty of time if something is important”? I think “I don’t have time” in this case is a cop-out for “I dont feel like it.” How can “being polite to others and acknowledging the nice things they do” not be one of your values? Thank you notes aren’t for the benefit of the writer- they’re for the person who did something nice. And again, I think several commenters have said that it’s not writing the note that matters- it’s acknowledging the gift, which you didn’t mention at all in the podcast. You seem to be only considering yourself in the equation here- *I* would rather spend my time doing something else. Yeah, wouldn’t we all? Most people don’t write thank you notes because they find it fun- they write them because they believe they owe the courtesy to the person who sent them a gift or whatever. Do you make all your decisions based only on what you want? Must be nice.

  • Gillian

    I also believe it is important to acknowledge a gift. The form used doesn’t matter but the acknowledgement should be specific – not just “thank you for the gift” but “thank you so much for the jigsaw; I love doing puzzles.”

    However, what strikes me here is that perhaps there is far too much gift-giving in our society. It leads to excessive and unnecessary consumption, materialism and clutter. Unless the potential recipient is very poor, they can usually buy anything they really need or want and choose exactly what that is. Things were different 50 or 60 years ago. Today, teaching children that their birthday celebration is all about stuff is, to me, wrong – especially in affluent families. I don’t have kids but if I did, I would do the following: have the child select a charity – perhaps one for other, less fortunate, children. Ask the invited guests not to bring a gift, but to bring a small contribution to the charity. Organize it so that no-one sees how much each person donates. At the end of the party, tally the money and let all the kids know the total, thank them all for their generosity and for coming and helping celebrate the birthday. The next day take your child with you as you deliver the donation or have him help preparing the mailing of it.

    This way, the child has a fun party. More importantly, he receives the gift of learning about true generosity and that the most important thing about a celebration is the people you share it with.

    Sorry if I come across as a Grinch.

    • Emily

      You are not a Grinch, Gillian – I completely agree with you! It seems that the old mentality of giving a gift as a meaningful gesture has turned into a transactional obligation. It’s a shame and I agree with you that it leads to “excessive and unnecessary consumption, materialism and clutter.” I’m also mystified by the concept of such large parties for children. Has our culture become so paranoid of leaving someone out that a family simply can’t invite 4 or 5 children to one party? Just curious.

      • Gillian

        I wondered about that too, Emily. Does inviting 30 kids to the party mean that your child will be invited to 30 parties, each requiring a gift?! Another reason I’m glad to not have kids.

  • Ginger Horton

    I have some study helps that speak to what Elizabeth was saying about being prepared for tests on today’s podcast. I was an educational psychology major in college, and took a class on the psychology of learning. I wish these were concepts we were taught in first grade, right at the very beginning of a school career, not just as an elective in your last year of higher learning! I had a fantastic professor, who not only taught us how the brain worked when it was learning or recalling information, but also troves and troves of practical “study helps.” I still remember a few that young listener Isabelle might be able to make use of.

    Gretchen will appreciate this one because of her love of scent. Because our memory is so tied to smell, we can harness this when it comes to taking exams too. If possible, use a smell while your studying, and the same smell while you need to recall the information. For example, have a special perfume or essential oil that you spritz on while you’re studying, and also for the day you take your test. Taste is also tied in here, so if you can suck on a peppermint or other candy while you study, and also while you test, so much the better. (Peppermint is especially helpful because it has other clarifying purposes.)

    The index card was especially designed with our average optimal field of vision in mind. It turns out that 3 x 5 index cards are about the perfect amount of information our brains can take in on one glance. So much the better if you can add colors and other visual stimulants while you’re making out these study aids. (Not to mention the additional assist of just the process of transferring the knowledge from notes/textbooks to a usable, concise form in your own words.)

    Another is movement. Walk around while you study. Pacing awakens all kinds of good things in our brains. This is where those handy index cards become doubly useful!

    If at all possible, see if you can do your preparation in the room you’ll be testing in. The environment of your physical location is just one more peg to help recall when you’re trying to remember information. Not to mention the comfort you’ll have of being in that space while the pressure is off. If you can’t get in the actual classroom, even walking around the school grounds, perhaps outside the window would be of help. It’s amazing what connections the brain makes.

    Our brains tend to remember the first and the last things we look at, so put your most important concepts in the front of your batch. And take frequent breaks (20 minutes on, 10 minutes off), so you get lots of these “firsts and lasts.”

    Basically, as many different of your senses as you can engage while studying, the better. Smell a fresh scent while walking in the same room as you’ll test, glancing at colorfully penned index cards — all that many more “pegs” for your brain to latch onto when it comes time to recall that important information!

    • gretchenrubin

      Such interesting and varied ideas!

  • gretchenrubin

    Awww thanks! Great to hear from KC!

  • Joyce Dall’Acqua Peterson

    Transactional thank-you notes (I send you a gift, you send me a note) are by definition a chore even when you love the gift (and I wanted to give you a gift, not a chore.) On the other hand, I do want to make sure you’ve received the gift, so an email or text sets my mind at ease. If I’ve handed you a gift and you have thanked me, we’re done!

  • Imogen_Jericho

    Regarding thank-you notes, I agree that the point is acknowledging and expressing gratitude for the specific gift, and if it makes it easier to do that by email, phone, text or in person, there should be no problem with that (though I do feel I get my best gold star when I write the paper note).

    BUT, when it comes to big birthday parties hosted by busy parents, nobody is wondering, hmm, why haven’t I gotten my thank-you note for that Lego set yet, at least not among my friends. We know how much everyone has on their plate.

    If anything, sending notes out too promptly makes everyone else feel bad about themselves! I once wrote and sent notes the SAME DAY as the party in an attempt to assuage my own thank you note anxiety and never heard the end of it. So, don’t worry, Elizabeth, you are just being a good friend and making the other parents feel good about their own thank you note fails!

  • Brittany Rosenvall

    Although we encourage our kids to send thank you notes for gifts they have received, it sometimes does not happen and I don’t stress about it. However, I much prefer to send and receive “surprise thank you notes” for things that people are not expecting to be thanked for. When I receive a thank you note for something that wasn’t an obvious need for thanks it brings a lot more happiness than just an obligatory thank you note. It means the person was specifically thinking about me and not just checking me off the list. I also keep in mind what generation someone is in and what their expectation and desire for thank you notes might be. My grandparents probably receive very little mail (and don’t embrace most technology) at all so I feel it is important to at least send letters to them if not anyone else.

    • Gillian

      I agree about the value of a surprise thank you note. I am now retired but a couple of times when I was working, someone I had helped solve a problem sent me a thank you note in the interoffice mail. What I had done was nothing special – part of my job in IT involved application support. In these cases I had helped someone solve a problem they had with the application – what I was paid to do. However, it was lovely to receive a note appreciating my effort. It made me feel that the effort I put into my work made a difference. A gold star.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great points.

  • MJ

    I have to agree with most people that thank you notes are important. I do, however, agree with Emily Post that if you thank the giver in person you don’t need to write the note. In Elizabeth’s case, even though they didn’t open the presents at the party she and her son could’ve said thank you as each person left. Job done. (I also understand how busy she has been but maybe the parents of the gift givers are busy too.)
    I do take exception to the idea that one is too busy or has more valuable things to do with one’s time to write a thank you note. Of course, we are all busy. Of course, I would rather read a book, go to Pilates or do many other things but that doesn’t mean that a thank you isn’t in order. Buying a gift takes time and money. People should be thanked for the effort that they’ve put into selecting and giving a gift. In many cases, an email is fine; in other cases, yes, pen and paper need to be involved. (As a humorous aside, I can’t be the only person who noted that one of Elizabeth’s problems was a lack of stamps and one of your podcast sponsors is stamps.com.)

  • Sarah M.

    I have nothing to add to the discussion of thank you notes except to say that I had a good chuckle when Elizabeth said that one of the reasons she didn’t send the notes was because she didn’t have stamps. There’s this great service called Stamps.com that she may want to check out. She might even be able to get a promo code somewhere. 😉

  • Sarah Baroody

    I can SO identify with Elizabeth on the thank you notes!! I probably still have half written notes un-sent for months after my child’s party or Christmas and end up tossing them. I agree with the reader who said its a great exercise in gratitude and I also agree with those who say they smile and appreciate to receive a thank you note. Whenever I get one I think, aw that’s so sweet! I guess I just don’t have the same values or I would actually do it too. So I’m with you Gretchen. I prefer a face to face thank you or a phone call or a text.

    One thing to consider in today’s birthday party frenzy is the fact that the host is usually shelling out quite a bit of money to have the fun party. In addition, it’s customary now to give each attendee a gift in the form of a goodie-bag on the way out. Some of these are so thoughtful and costly I think it’s really an even exchange! No thank you necessary.

    • Gillian

      I am soooooo glad I don’t have kids. They would end up feeling left out because I would refuse to participate in all that nonsense. Birthday parties are fine – invite 6 or 8 kids you like to the house, we’ll play games and have some pop & ice-cream & cake and everyone will have some old fashioned, non-excessive, inexpensive fun. I find myself more and more out of step with the modern world. I think many of the problems I see are a result of too much affluence which is both the cause and the result of people being too busy to take 5 minutes to think about what really matters and to establish some values to live by.

  • Grandma Honey

    Teaching our children to write thank you notes is more for their own benefit than the one they are sending it to. It teaches them to be grateful, to think of others, and that it’s not all about themselves. Being grateful definitely adds to a person’s happiness. And what we learn as a child, stays with us forever. And besides….being a Grandma of 24, I LOVE to receive an expression of thanks (note, phone call, email….anything!) when we send them a birthday or Christmas gift. I LOVE to feel our efforts were at least meaningful to them in some way. But more than that, I LOVE knowing their parents are teaching our grandchildren to think of others.

    Grandma Honey

    • MerryMary

      Preach! Immediately after my 16 year-old-son son had an emergency surgery, he talked about writing the medical staff thank you notes. He realized these people saved his life and he was grateful. He wrote the notes a few weeks later.

      Also, in today’s world, a thank-you e-mail or text is fine. It’s just good to let people know you received their gift, they may wonder if it was lost or something.

  • Kristina Bogardus

    I enjoy thie podcast and find your discussions insightful. The discussion of thank you notes, though, was troubling. I was taken aback when I learned that none of the birthday presents were opened by the birthday boy in front of the guests. Kids enjoy picking out presents and really enjoy seeing their friend opening the gift. How are these children learning how to be gracious gift givers and recipients if they don’t practice? Seems like the presents served as admission tickets to an event rather than gifts to a friend.

    As for the notes, five year olds should not be expected to send notes to friends who come to parties. Parents end up doing the work and it seems more like a task to satisfy the parents. Thank you notes to family members are more important, I think, and that is where I focused my efforts (nagging and reminding) when my kids were young.

  • Margit

    hi gretchen and elizabeth,
    best advice that my techy sister told me about the passwords is for them to relate to the site you are trying to access. eg amazon,” I like books” can be one password, then followed with a number. Also if you are stuck in a crappy job, the password for that work computer can be ” It will get better” so every morning you can get some sort of positive vibe rather than loathing that job.
    Thank you so much for the podcasts. I am stay at home mum, I really enjoy them. Also would like to get more insight about my rebel tendency. How can for eg my husband can communicate with me, I am sure he is upholder as he is very disciplined at times.

  • Theresa

    With the thank yous and birthday presents I would and have gone the no present route at the friend party. I am sure Jack (like my kids) has PLENTY of toys. 30 guests and 30 more toys is a lot of stuff. The party with his friends is my kid’s present AND the party is the reward for the guests too. I also do not do gift bags. No thank you cards/guilt necessary!

    • Gillian

      Absolutely agree! Good for you!

  • On the problem of passwords I wouldn’t be without a password manager, there are some great programmes out there, such as Last Pass, which will install across all your platforms (pc, tablet, phone). They will auto fill data if you have a saved login for a site and if you are registering on a new site will easily save, or even generate a new password for you. Now I only have to remember one password, the one to my password manager, it’s so much easier.

  • I understand the “don’t write down your passwords – ever” phenomena, however, this day and age, there is more reality of hackers – and it’s only getting worse. (the best place to hack? a password keeping site) – who’s going to come into my home and take an alphabetized address/telephone book nestled with other boring looking, not shiny things? I mean really. This works best near my personal computer or laptop. (I don’t get tech-y when I’m out and about, sorry – there’s more to life). And if and/or when my phone/laptop/computer were to crash? I still have my passwords. …

  • On thank you notes, I have for many years taken this into perspective: When my child goes to a birthday party or we have our own, the make-shift gift bags full of goodies (like candy and small trinkets or toys) for each child that attends, IS the ‘thank-you’ – both for coming to the party and for giving a gift (whether they bring one or not).

  • Pat

    I often listen to your Happier podcast over my wireless headphones when taking my daily walk outside – and, normally, it makes that experience even nicer. BUT, when I listened to your thoughts about thank you notes, I had to comment.

    Were you too busy too OPEN the gifts?? If not, then I would have to say that you are probably not too busy to ACKNOWLEDGE the gifts. Thank you notes don’t have to be notes. They can be phone calls, emails, texts, or they can be spoken in person when you receive the gift. The important thing is that the gift is acknowledged. Also, if the gift is for your child who is old enough to at least draw a scribble, you could have your child draw one picture and help him or her write their first name at the bottom. You could scan it and email it. OR you could take a photo with your phone as your child opens each gift and then send a quick thank you text with the photo to the giver. If your child is old enough to write a thank you note or acknowledge the gift, then your child should do it in the way that is most natural for him or her. They can, of course, write a note, send an email, or make a phone call. It does not have to be a time-consuming process.

  • JJ

    Wouldn’t it be great if there was a little symbol you could put on your party invite (or evite) that represented “No gifts needed/expected & this is a thank-you-note-free-zone…” or something along those lines?
    No-one has brought up another aspect of the problem – what to DO with all those notes you may get, that represent lots of time and blood/sweat/tears for young kids and busy parents!? I actually feel vaguely guilty recycling them! (we do sometimes save special ones in the kids’ keepsake boxes).

    We tried a book exchange for our son’s 8th birthday this year, and it was fun. All the kids seemed happy to leave with a new-to-them book (we had a few extra to deal with duplicates). However, funnily enough a few friends brought special non-book gifts (“because we knew he wanted this type of Lego” etc) and for those….we still relied on verbal and email thank-yous…over the next few months!

    • Gillian

      A book exchange – what a great idea!

  • KathM

    I’m sure I’m repeating what others have already said, but to me thank you notes are super-important for the following reasons:

    1) If I have a sent a gift through the mail, it lets me know the person received the gift. On more than one occasion, I have been left wondering if wedding and baby gifts have made it to their destination. I will concede that it doesn’t have to be a long, formal note- just a text to say, “Hey, I got the thing, thanks for thinking of me!”

    Actually, this applies to parties/events I attend in person, too. My nephew’s birthday party is this weekend, and I’m already strategizing how to wrap the gift card we’re giving him so it doesn’t get lost or thrown out in the chaos, since I know we won’t receive a note/text/e-mail.

    2) I spend time and money to purchase gifts for people- gifts they will hopefully enjoy. If the recipient opens it and I’m not there, I do appreciate someone taking the time to say thanks in some way. It rubs me the wrong way that a recipient can be excused for being “too busy” to even send a text when I made time to get them a gift. Of course, to me it’s never too late to say thanks, even if it’s months later.

    Unless I shouldn’t give someone a gift if I expect a thanks?

    3) I know having gift-free children’s parties is the trend right now, but I am a big proponent of the gift ritual. I think it teaches kids generosity, appreciation, courtesy, how to be gracious if they receive something they don’t like, and how to be share in someone else’s joy even if they don’t get a fire truck, too. Saying or sending thanks is an important part of this process to my mind.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Love the show- keep it up!

    • gretchenrubin

      Great insights.

  • Pam

    If the number of gifts is going to be too cumbersome to open in person or send some sort of thanks, why not just have smaller gatherings?

  • Mads85

    Um, if not having stamps is keeping you from sending thank you notes, why aren’t you using stamps.com?

    • KM

      I agree. I’m sorry to say it but saying you didn’t have stamps or whatever just sounded like a cop out. Yes, you are terribly late in sending the note, but it is still going to appreciated whenever you get around to sending it. Just admit that it’s late and still write the note. People took time to buy a present and they should be thanked. The point is not that you don’t care about writing the thank you notes, it’s about the person that gave the gift.

  • Joann Hnat

    I hate birthday parties where the gifts aren’t opened. We did that once, and realized what a bad idea it was. And I hate receiving no acknowledgement at all about for a gift – and about 1,000% more if you sent the gift, so you’re not sure it was received.

    I think you have three options: make the parties small enough so that you can open all the gifts in front of the senders and give thanks right then, write thank-you notes (email, phone calls, whatever), or have gift-free parties, like the kind where everyone brings something to donate to the local animal shelter.

  • Suzanne

    I have my son write thank you notes, and I enjoy receiving them, even when it isn’t particularly heartfelt, but rather just an exercise in acknowledgement. This episode did make me reconsider the need for thank you notes for large children’s parties. I find that it is just another homework assignment for my son, when he already has so much to do. This last year, he turned 12, and I opted to have him send an email to each of his friends. It satisfied my need to acknowledge receipt of the gifts. As a parent, I like to know my gift wasn’t lost in the gift pile more than anything. On that same note, I find thank you notes (again, an email works, too) important when a gift has been sent. The giver wants to know that a thoughtfully picked out gift wasn’t lost in the mail or damaged. I agree that when the gift is opened with the person present and a verbal thank you is given, then a written note isn’t necessary. My sister has recently found an email thank you card service that sends a really cute animation as a thank you and that is fun, too.

    On the note of the “Superman Pose” as a lucky charm for test taking, I encourage people to watch a TED talk that points to the evidence that this can really make a difference in performance. https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

    Thank you, Gretchen and Elizabeth, as always, I love your podcasts!

  • kstiles

    I don’t expect a thank you note for a gift. But a couple a years ago I gave a great nephew an astronaut jump suit from the Smithsonian store and did not expect a note but a few months later his mother texted me pictures of him wearing it over the course of several days. To me that was better than any thank you note.

  • Sweet Thursday

    I too fall down on the thank you note side of gifts received – I’m with Elizabeth on this one.

    However I do endeavor to do text or email photos/videos of my kids opening gifts from family/friends who send gifts from interstate – a picture paints a thousand words?

    And whilst gift giving can be a generous and thoughtful act, I do think that the giving itself is what is important rather than the acknowledgement. I actually think it’s more important to send a message of thanks to the parents who organise said parties!

  • Michelle Thoms

    On the topic of thank you notes…I have a grandmother that is deeply insulted if she doesn’t receive a thank you note after she gives a gift, even if she is there in person for you to thank. I would love to phase out thank you notes all together but I don’t want to upset her. Is it okay to only send my grandmother a thank you note and not send any others out? What if my family members found out that I sent my grandmother a thank you note but I didn’t send one to them also? Does it have to be all or nothing?

  • Marcia @ Organising Queen

    Thank-you notes/ texts/ voicemails are one of my pet peeves and, as such, I have a number of thoughts on the subject.

    1. I hate going to crowded shops but yet I love giving gifts, especially thoughtful ones. So too, I always appreciate that others took the time to shop for me or the kids and even if just for that, I want us to be appreciative and grateful and thank them properly.

    2. My kids have always been required to do thank-yous. In the very early days, I’d write out the notes and have them do a squiggle, to just their name, to the whole note. Last year (6th birthday), we went away for a holiday the day after their birthday party and I wanted to get the thank-yous done before we left, so I had them record voice messages and we sent those out. The recipients LOVED them (i must say, better than the paper notes!) so we might do the same this year.

    3. I definitely like to know if people have received gifts I’ve sent, and I think it is just good manners to acknowledge the gift.

    4. I personally thank the giver in person, but I will send an SMS afterwards to thank them again. Another thing I like to do is if I’m using the thing, I’ll send a quick SMS to say, “oh, I’ve just opened the body wash you gave me (or whatever) and I love the fragrance – thanks again”.

    5. I’ve given gifts before (posted) and if the recipient hasn’t even acknowledged it, they won’t get a gift from me again!

    6. I suppose in summary, I feel like the how isn’t important, just that it’s done.

    If I were Elizabeth, I’d write individual emails (most of it a standard template) and say, “sorry this thank-you note is so late but we’re very grateful and I didn’t want to let the lateness put me off. Thank you so much for Jack’s _______.” Done – no more guilt!

  • Kate

    A little late to the party, but I also wanted to comment on the thank you note issue. And as others have said, I’m not saying your sister absolutely had to write thank you notes this time, but you *did* say you “do not” make your girls write thank you notes. Honestly, I find it kind of appalling that you would so matter-of-factly say that you can’t do everything you want to, something has to go, and the thing that has to go is doing something considerate for other people who have just extended a courtesy to you. Especially considering the number of times I have heard you mention your penchant for gold stars- how would you feel if you spent time coming up with a great gift and then received no acknowledgement? Also, I agree with other commenters that it doesn’t necessarily need to be elaborate, hand-written etc- and I’d also like to point out how often you’ve said “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”- can you honestly not find a way to apply that here? Fill in the blank thank you notes? Emails? E-cards? Take pictures of your girls playing with their birthday gifts and send them to the givers?

  • maureen

    I always send thank you notes (snail or email, depending). It’s fast and easy and gratitude feels good. If giving gives more pleasure than receiving, and this is a way of giving even as you receive. It was mortifying to think that someone might get a note from me and think “too bad she didn’t have anything better to do with her time.” How about you stop judging the writer of the note and I’ll stop judging you for failing to write your own! Truce!

  • Nicola

    Wow, I’m kind of amazed by how many people think thank you notes are so important here. I can say in my entire lifetime I have received maybe 2 thank you notes and I have sent none. Both times I received a thank you note I thought it was a weird old world kind of thing to do. I can’t imagine all the people commenting here are that much older than me, so I can only assume this is a cultural thing, I’m from New Zealand and I can say it’s just not a thing we do. Which is of course great, because if it were something anybody expected, I’d definitely be in Elizabeth’s situation permanently.
    I can think of another possible reason, we almost always open presents at the birthday party but especially if it’s a children’s party, so the thanks for any particular present happens at that point.

  • Zoë

    To pitch in on the Password thing : I found this on a website recently : a password organizer : http://www.studiostationery.nl/en/studio-stationery-no-peeking-password-organizer-gr-24169918.html

  • Amanda

    The act of writing thank you notes is the continuation of a conversation started by the giver essentially saying, I thought of you when I saw this and what do you think of it (the gift). The thank you note is always handwritten always snail mailed and is done by THE CHILD

  • Esmee

    Hi there! I just wanted to mention that in the Netherlands we never send out thank you notes for birthdays. I know we do send them for weddings and with funerals only for the people who are involved. But never for birthdays. We do give something at kids birthday parties, like little candybags or a small toy.

    Thanks for the podcast!