Miles Kington: Thank-you letters needn't be a thankless task

They make the recipient think more highly of you, so next year you'll get a better class of present
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The Independent Online

Dear Children,

This is the time of year when we should all get down to writing our thank-you letters. Oh, yes it is. Oh, yes we should. But you haven't actually got down to it yet, have you? Of course you haven't!

How do I know that you haven't got round to writing any thank-you letters yet?

Lord bless you, child, I was young once too! I can remember what it was like, in those blank days after Christmas, when you had already got tired of your presents, and stopped playing with then, and then your mother came in and said: "Have you written any thank-you letters yet?" and you said no, but you were just about to, when what you wanted to say was: "Why should I write thank-you letters? My presents a) don't work b) are broken c) are not what I wanted d) are too young for me, so why should I write and say thank you?"

Yes, children, that is what I too thought all those many years ago. And my mother would take no notice of my protests, but would make me sit down there and then and start a thank-you letter, and an hour later she would ask me how I was getting on and I would say: "Well, I have started it," and she would look over my shoulder and say: "You have only written your address. And you have spelled that wrong," and two days later I would have finished my first messy, inky thank-you letter, which said: "Dear Granny, Thank you for the present, it was just what I wanted, love, Miles."

The trouble was, children, that nobody had explained to me how to write a thank-you letter or even what the point was, so although I have lots of other things to do today (like playing with the lovely presents I got this Christmas! Yes, which I have already thanked my wife for, if you really want to know. No, not in writing, actually. I think my wife would find it faintly curious if I wrote her a thank-you letter. That is one of the advantages of marriage. You have no need to write your wife thank-you letters. You have to express your gratitude to your wife in other, deeper, more long-term ways. That is one of the disadvantages of marriage) so although I have lots of other things to do today, I am going to take a little time out to answer these questions for you.

1. "What is the point of writing thank you letters?"

It's hard to know where to start. Firstly, it gets your parents off your back.

Secondly, it makes the person you are writing to think more highly of you, so that next year he or she will say to themselves: "Ah, little Kevin wrote me such a nice thank you letter last year, I will dig deep into my pocket this year," and you will get a better class of present from them.

Thirdly, it gives you an increased sense of self-esteem. You may have read in the papers that a lot of personality disorders today are due to a lack of self-esteem. Well, just by writing thank-you letters, you can give yourself a better feeling of self-worth. So get down to it at once, you little buggers. No, sorry, I didn't mean that. That's just the sort of thing that lowers people's self-esteem. Forget I said that.

(Another potent reason for writing thank-you letters at your youthful age is that in years to come, when you have overcome your lack of self-esteem and become a rich and successful person, there may be an attempt to publish your "Collected Letters". It is a curious thing, but when people collect their letters, there is seldom anything written by them before the age of about 19, even if they are future professional writers. So if you do your thank-you letters now, you are storing up valuable future material for your biographers.)

You may have deduced from all this that the various motives for writing thank-you letters are all to do with naked self-interest, and greed, and self-advancement. Absolutely right. And this of course is entirely in keeping with the spirit of Christmas today.

2. "How do I write a thank- you letter?"

I will have to leave that to my next column. So ask your mummy or daddy to be sure to buy the paper tomorrow. Two copies, to be safe. See you tomorrow, children!