It's never too late to say thanks

THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE: It's never too late to thank someone.
THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE: It's never too late to thank someone.

Is your New Year's resolution to be more appreciative? To stay on top of things? Well, it's not too late to send thank-you notes for those Christmas gifts. In fact, it's the perfect way to begin the year on the right foot.

When is it appropriate to send a thank-you note? The short answer is any time someone gives you a gift. A thank-you note is always appreciated, even if you've said thanks in person. It's a personal way to tell the person you truly value the effort they made.

The biggest obstacle to thank-you note writing is often writer's block. You just don't know what to say, so you put it off. You don't want to send a generic letter, but you don't know how to make the message special. It's true no one wants to receive a form letter, but don't worry about penning a Pulitzer Prize-worthy note in order to have it be appreciated by the recipient.

The sooner you write, the easier it will be. The gift will be fresh in your mind, so you can focus on that instead of on how to express, "I'm so sorry this note is late!"

Write the note as though you were speaking directly with the person you are thanking. This often helps conquer the stiff tone that can creep into the most well-meant notes of thanks.

Good news: Thank-you notes don't need to be long! Three to five sentences gets the job done. You can always write more if you want to.

Be enthusiastic and sincere. If you're not sure what to say, mention how you plan to use the gift, "The gravy boat you sent will be perfect when you next come to dinner."

Focus on the positive. Don't mention any dissatisfaction with the gift. Even if the item you are thanking for isn't your favorite, you can usually find something about it to praise. If you plan to exchange it, mention that in a conversation rather than in a note.

What do you write when a gift is a real dud? Good etiquette calls for honesty, but only when it serves a purpose.

This kind of note requires more diplomacy, but it's worth the effort. After all, the gift-giver meant well, so make sure you don't hurt his or her feelings.

On the other hand, avoid gushing, which in addition to being dishonest may send many more of the same kind of unwanted gift your way. Keep your tone neutral and stress your appreciation: "This is very thoughtful, thank you!"

If you want to let the gift-giver know the gift arrived safely or want to say your thanks immediately, you can always call or email your thanks right away and mention that a handwritten note will follow in the mail.

While an emailed thank-you note is still better than no note at all, the effort the giver went to buy, wrap, and deliver your gift, in addition to the thoughtfulness of getting you one at all, is worth any extra time it takes to handwrite your thanks.

There is a more personal quality to a handwritten note. It's the style card you chose or it might have your name or monogram on it and it has the personal quirks of your handwriting (even if your writing isn't the best!)

In an age when people come home to a mailbox full of bills and junk mail, your handwritten note of thanks will stand out.

Do you write thank you notes, or do you think they're outdated?