Heartfelt “thank yous” are underrated. Notice I’m specifying plural gratitudes. And emphasizing genuine.

My wife and I were taught to be generous and be thankful, perhaps to the point of excess. This is a lesson we’ve emphasized and exhibited for our children, Mikkel and Lex, and will certainly show to our granddaughter, Reagan. But it seems we are not in the majority on this. Far too often now I’ve noticed:

  1. People neglect to show genuine thanksgiving when somebody takes them to dinner, treats them to an event, goes the extra mile for them, or has their back. They may say “thanks” but it rings robotic, insincere, not from the heart and doesn’t include a look in the eye and physical contact (hug, handshake, etc.).
  2. Recipients don’t send out written thank-you notes for birthday, holiday, shower or wedding presents.
  3. People send the messages out late or with little thought to the message of appreciation. More like: Got to do it, hurry up, sign and send.
  4. The note itself is of poor quality or not targeted to the recipient.

One of the things I’ve done religiously over the years to build relationships is to give genuine, uniquely targeted, timely thank-yous. If I’m treated to something, I take the person aside, look him or her in the eye, hold a hand, arm or shoulder and thank them for the sacrifice they made to include me (or us). And that’s not the end of it.

Before I leave the area, or if I’m home the next day, I write a personalized thank-you note to the person, using a design targeted to her or him, and following the three rules of a successful thank-you:

  1. Acknowledge the gift: “I really appreciated the gift of the tie with dogs on it.”
  2. Recognition of time and effort spent to select it: “I know there are a thousand restaurants in the town, and I appreciate your search to find one with the best sirloin steaks.”
  3. A prediction of how you will use the gift or the way it has enhanced your life: “I've always wanted to sit courtside at an NBA game, and now I’ll have a different viewpoint of every game I watch on TV.”

My mom recently turned 88 years old, and she is in the autumn of her life. I posted something on Facebook about her fighting to get out of the hospital and be back home to be with her little dog, Sugar Baby. The photo showed the dog in her lap and in the foreground an award she had been given for 25 years of service at the local hospital. This post led to a flood of online best wishes, fond memories and recognition. Of the hundreds she received, the ones that meant the most were hand-written and very specific.

We all need to be caught doing something right, to be thanked a little. In fact, we need that little a lot.