Handwritten Thank-You Notes Have Surprising Consequences

In a recent piece on Psychology Today’s site, Author Christopher Bergland asks readers:  “When was the last time you sent someone a handwritten ‘thank you’ note of gratitude or appreciation?”

Throughout the article, Bergland references a fascinating new study on the underestimated benefits of handwritten letters and the importance of putting pen to paper. This study, “Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation,” was led by Amit Kumar, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Texas, and Nicholas Epley, Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago.

One of our favorite points from the research is how the action of expressing gratitude in a handwritten letter is proven to boost positive emotions for both the writer and the recipient; it’s a win-win situation!

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“We looked at what’s correlating with people’s likelihood of expressing gratitude—what drives those choices—and what we found is that predictions or expectations of that awkwardness, that anticipation of how a recipient would feel—those are the things that matter when people are deciding whether to express gratitude or not,” Kumar said in a statement. “What we saw is that it only takes a couple of minutes to compose letters like these, thoughtful ones and sincere ones. It comes at little cost, but the benefits are larger than people expect.”

Over here at Dempsey & Carroll, we always love reading about the positive feelings associated with handwritten letters. We invite you to read Bergland’s full post, “Handwritten Thank-You Notes Have Surprising Consequences,” so that you can get inspired to put pen to paper!


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Want the House? Write a Letter!

As our CEO Lauren Marrus was catching up on her reading over the weekend, a headline in the Wall Street Journal caught her eye: “Want a House? Write a Letter.” As it turns out, a writing a letter might just be the key to securing real estate in a bidding war.

In a bidding war, penning a note to the seller can dramatically boost a buyer’s odds of success. Leigh Kamping-Carder’s article goes on to present quantitative evidence about the importance of adding a note to your offer to purchase a home.


Kamping-Carder continues, “ In addition to flattering a seller’s ego—or assuring him or her the home will be cared for—a letter can also signal that the buyer is serious, which translates into a willingness to follow through even if hurdles come up in the sales process.”

I promise that we do not have a direct line to the Journal, but I can say that it’s still a real thing to write a note or letter to make a point.  Now in the time of instant messages, text messages, and email, a handwritten or personalized note or letter rises above the noise more than ever.

If you’d like to write this note on Dempsey & Carroll papers,  we’re here to help! If not, we still encourage you to pick up a pen and #writeitreal.


A Note From Our CEO

We always think that it’s important to start the New Year on a new note. Our CEO Lauren Marrus shares a few of her thoughts from Bob Greene’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of making a meaningful resolution for the New Year.DSC_6428

Over the holidays I had lots of time to relax with my family and read books, magazines and lots of newspapers.  On December 29th as I was trying to come up with a meaningful resolution – beyond the usual – I found Bob Greene’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.  Mr. Greene discusses the value to be found in generosity of spirit and quotes frequently from a speech made by Chief Justice John Roberts at his son’s ninth grade graduation. Worth repeating here, I am quoting directly from the speech.


Chief Justice Roberts says, “Once a week, you should write a note to someone.  Not an email.  A note on a piece of paper.  It will take you exactly 10 minutes.”

He goes on to say that if you do this, for 10 months, “40 people will feel a little more special because you did, and they will think you are very special because of what you did”.


Many of us already practice this habit – a quick note after a dinner party; a thank you for the business meeting; and a sympathy note all too frequently.  What if we all added in a few more notes to make those around us feel just a little more special?  I, for one, wouldn’t mind feeling just a little bit special every now and then.


The Lost Art of the Handwritten Note

Repost from our friend Yanik Silver:


Let’s face it, in today’s digitally wired society there seems to be a slippery slope of what passes for meaningful communication. Look, I’m as guilty as anyone. Actually, I used text to give condolences on a friend’s loss of her father recently. I can do better.

Going beyond a Facebook message, text or email and actually create a connection, with intention, is when something much more magical happens.

I’ve always known it. You have too.

And a handwritten note is one of those little things that makes a big difference.

I’m re-learning it starting with my kids.  I got the idea to put a drawing and note into their lunch boxes every day for school. It started in the last month of school and now it’s continued into camp. They love it. And the fact that they love it makes me want to continue to wow them with a few cute little drawings and my semi-funny (at least to me) captions.

Here’s how it started (he didn’t get the ‘groaner’ of a joke here):

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Then I got some cool sparkly gel pens and they evolved a bit. Here are the ones from the end of school:

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It really doesn’t take me too long and I love doing it since as a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist. I just Google some cartoon characters and then use that as inspiration.

It’s that handwritten quality that really makes it stand out. If you have little kids in your life, don’t their colorful notes mean so much to you? At Father’s day I got a handmade card from Zoe with a rocket ship on front since I’m going into space. And with instructions inside the card to color the page. I love it!


And from Zack I got a hand drawn card with a picture of me about how much he loves playing hockey with me. Priceless.

Everybody would love this…

There’s no reason I couldn’t do this in a meaningful way for people I want to keep and bring closer into my life too. Think to a time when you got a handwritten note from somebody it just meant so much more, right? I’ve got some notes from sales people or others I’ve worked with and they’ve always been elevated in my mind – but only if there’s a genuine and authentic nature to them. Not some cookie cutter “Thank you for your business. It was my pleasure to serve you, blah, blah, blah.”I guess better than nothing but not really meaningful.

Handwritten love letters

I recently sent my wife, Missy, a 3-page love letter from a 3X Maverick Multiplier Retreat in Chicago. We did a session at Lifebook with the Mavericks to explore creating and deepening your relationships. It made me stretch.

So at 3 o’clock in the morning I wrote out 33 reasons why I love her. Then I bought a cool wooden greeting card and popped it into the mail. It was a really incredible surprise for her to get the card with the note inside. I was away in Toronto on another trip and she told me she cried when she got it. Mission accomplished!

I’m not going to copy all of it here but you can see a bit of it. The amazing thing was writing it out I felt even more love and gratitude for who she truly is. It’s so much more than just buying a Hallmark card and handwriting in “I love you”. Try it some time.

I’ll also leave Missy little notes every once-in-a-while now too in random places for her to find. I used to love when she did that for me on trips. I’d find little post-it notes tucked into my socks or under a shirt when unpacking.

What about business contacts?  

Well wouldn’t you want to deepen those relationships? Of course. Part of what’s prompting me to write this was actually getting a text from one of our Maverick1000 members, Shelby Larson, ContentDivas.com. She had spoken at Underground and I wrote her a little thank you note afterwards. She said she still has it on her desk. That’s pretty cool! (Actually I showed Shelby a rough draft of this first post and she told me she’s been on a handwritten note campaign. She gets 5 out per week to different categories of people she cares about.)


Direct mailers have known that handwriting works incredibly well. Have you ever got a blank #10 envelope handwritten to you with a maybe a post-it note attached to an “article” that reads “Try this it works”.

These are called tear sheet mailings and there are massive mailhouses that simulate handwriting. I used to use handwritten addresses in my first mail order business and feel like it increased results. It could even be as simple as a personalized post-it note or maybe a little note on the bottom of your checks to affiliates. I still do that when I sign my own checks.

Or think about books. If you’ve ever had a book signed to you from an author don’t you get more meaning if there’s something handwritten beyond just their regular catch phrase? I love it when authors send me their books along with a little inscription if I’ve impacted their lives in some way. Richard Branson signed his latest book, Screw Business As Usual, to me with this:


There’s truly something magical about handwriting – especially if you put some of your personality and authentic heart into it. If you’re a doodler like me include some of your doodles. If you like to create bubble letters – go for it. If you’re into flowers and animals – why not add a few creative touches? Start creating more personal notes you can and see what the results are.

There’s no doubt in my mind you’d stand out using more handwritten notes– head and shoulders over anybody else. It seems overwhelming if you feel like there are 100s of people you SHOULD be writing notes to. Or feeling obligated to. Maybe it’s a hold-off from when your parents forced you to write horrible Thank You notes after your 8th birthday party or something like that but…

…Screw it.

Start with those who really touch your heart. Maybe it’s your kids or partner first. Maybe it’s to your parents or someone else in your family. Or to your most meaningful customers. Or pick a new random connection who you want to get to know deeper. Just a simple ‘Thank you’ but done with style would knock their socks off. It can be long or short. Funny or deep.

Also it’ll help if you have supplies and stamps handy at your desk, in your office, in your purse, etc. Get some cool note cards that inspire you. I bought my last set from Minted.com. They had quite a few whimsical designs I liked. Or if you’re a bit more formal you can’t go wrong with Smythson of Bond Street.

I just picked up a book, the The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd. It’s pretty good and you’ll pick a few tips from there and note starters.

Need another reason? Handwriting also provides all sorts of benefits to you aside from the reaction and impact you’ll get. Here’s a Wall Street Journal article how handwriting trains the brain.

To me it’s even more personal. I know with my handwritten journal entries there’s more meaning there than just typing on a computer. I believe your handwriting is directly wired to unite your head and heart.

Update: After I wrote this post- I sent out a handwritten note to my friend whose father passed away. She told me she read the note 3-4 times and it was extremely meaningful. That made me feel great, and I’ve been continuing with notes to people I really admire and haven’t really told. Once you start making this a habit – you won’t want to break it.

Just try it. I’d love hear what happens with your experiments and please drop me a comment to continue the conversation.

Writing Away from Far Away

When you sit in a café, not a chain, rather a proper authentic café anywhere in the world you immediately feel immersed in the culture – the vibe of the city permeates all of your senses. The smell of the streets, the architecture, the temperature, the preferred culinary anchors – if you are receptive it can be intoxicating. It’s no different for me as I sit at the Parisian café, L’anticafé.


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L’ anticafé is not the average French cafe. Aside from lacking outdoor seating, it is not full of tourists or menus in multiple languages despite being tucked away in the 1st arrondisement behind the Louvre. In fact, it has no menu at all. L’anticafé differs further from the typical French café —  instead of paying a ridiculous sum for a small cup of coffee, you pay by the hour and can consume as much coffee or tea as you want.  They also have snacks and free wifi. So, for five euro, I selected a long wooden table that I had all to myself and ordered my first latte.


I pulled out my stack of stationery and envelopes and started writing to my friends back at home. As the waitress approached me with my latte she commented, “I don’t see young people writing letters often. It’s inspiring to see your papers instead of the screens everyone else in the cafe is staring at.”


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Personal communication – touching someone with more thought then the fleeting moment of a text is perhaps a universal craving. We have become detached. Rather than sending emails and text to my friends and family back in the states I write letters to them. I savor the time to share my experience in Paris in a thoughtful manner. No distractions, no clicks, beeps, popups – just me, my latte, pen, and paper.


Sammy Marrus



Write Away Right Now

The annual rite of passage for college freshman is well underway. I would argue 99.9% of freshman are happily immersed in their new surroundings, and for many, they are enjoying the first taste of a (somewhat) sovereign life.  I would also argue with equal confidence that the parents of these happy and newly-freed baby birds are experiencing hints of sadness knowing that their children are growing up—and fast. I imagine that this is a similar sentiment to what I felt when I put my little kindergartner on the bus for the first day of school last week.


I was not surprised when a conversation took place between some new empty-nesters this weekend regarding the emotional roller coaster they’ve experienced over the past several weeks. They offered advice to each other squarely focused on writing letters to their kids. It was incredible – a group of ladies in their forties waxing poetic about writing handwritten notes to their kids. Each woman had a smart phone in hand – obviously, they are equipped with the latest and greatest technology. With her device in hand – “My daughter loves little surprises in the mail.” “The letters are cathartic for me,” said another. “I get to tell him how proud I am without embarrassing him or getting shift-deleted. He loves my letters.”


$.49 does not buy much today. It does buy these moms peace of mind, smiles, and the assurance that they are remembered for a moment. My bet is every one of those letters makes its home in a little box where they can be read again and again. I don’t think there are any emails, tweets or IMs in those boxes. It’s fitting they call them Forever Stamps, don’t you think?



The 70th Anniversary of D-Day: Honoring our Heroes

On the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, we celebrate our American heroes and the sacrifices they made, and continue to make, for our freedom. We must never forget the bravery and selflessness of our men and women in armed service; their stories are ones that must be preserved, passed on from one generation to the next.

Image courtesy of USA Today

Image courtesy of USA Today

During World War II, letters from family, friends, and romantic interests were the key to maintaining the morale of the men and women in combat. “Mail was indispensable,” one infantryman said, “It motivated us. We couldn’t have won the war without it” (PBS: http://www.pbs.org/thewar/at_home_communication_letters_diaries.htm). Soldiers wrote letters to their loved ones back home to update them about the war and alleviate their worries.

Private Sid Phillips was deployed to Guadalcanal Island to fight on the Pacific front. In a letter from Phillips to his family, he writes in response to a letter he received from them on September 3, 1942, the day after his 18th birthday:

September 3, 1942
Guadalcanal Island

Dear Mother, Dad, Katharine, and John:
Yesterday we got our first mail, the best birthday present possible for me. … After mail call everybody would be nice and quiet when suddenly somebody would curse in a loud voice and shout, “Alice got married.” It really was funny. Cherokee got word that he is out in the cold and really surprised us all. One fellow in our squad got a box of cookies that had been reduced to dust and the dust was soon reduced leaving an empty box…. Daddy! You absent-minded prof. When you write to mother, you better mail it to her and not accidentally put it in my letter. I destroyed it and didn’t show it to the boys though, just to show what a sport I am…
Tell everybody hello for me…


The Lives of Others

The past has a funny way of looping back around to land firmly in the present. When we think of time capsules we think of recorded voices on cassette tapes; thumb drives chock full of information spanning millennia; a velvet poster of Elvis Presley or an original taping of the moon landing, all buried in concrete beneath the earth or tucked away in some official storage facility in Pennsylvania.


But sometimes the past is written with a fine-tipped fountain pen on robin’s egg blue paper by a Frenchwoman to her little sister in September of 1920. I stumbled across this vintage missive in December of 2009 while on the hunt for a Christmas present for my artist stepmother. Stopping into one of my favorite boutiques in my hometown of Ashland, OR, I knew I was bound to find something at Prize, the chic storefront owned and curated by Jennifer. The shop is gorgeous from floor to ceiling, featuring everything from antique diamond necklaces to a library of vintage James Bond novels and contemporary children’s books. Between bags of pastel-colored candies tied off with gold ribbon and lavender saché pillows handmade in Provence, I happened upon a glass bowl filled with an array of old letters. As a writer and as a history lover, I could not resist the allure of vintage stationery. Upon closer inspection – and to my continuing delight – I found myself facing a treasure trove: Jennifer had brought back from a recent trip to Paris an assortment of handwritten letters from the turn of the 20th century. Most were near-mint and absolutely stunning. I selected two for purchase; one I kept, and the other – written in an elegant script on soft rose pink paper – I gave to my stepmother to use in her future art projects.

The letter I have kept for the last five years was eighty-nine years old when I bought it in 2009. Now approaching its 100th birthday, I have only managed to translate a smattering of words, but the contents of the letter written to a sister seem inconsequential compared to the existence of the letter, itself. To have something as beautiful as this finely penned letter (written, I’d like to think, on a rainy spring day in Paris, in the early afternoon over an espresso served in a gold-rimmed ceramic cup) in my possession feels like owning a snapshot of history told in words, an elegant and mysterious time capsule brought into the present still bearing the love and care of the writer nearly one hundred years later.

Rachel Kambury,



Share your own letters from the past on Instagram and be sure to tag @dempseycarroll. We would love to see your letters, notes, and post it-notes!