A little gratitude goes a long way.

Especially when it is hand-written.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Toni Morrison

When Facebook reminds you that it’s the birthday of a random acquaintance, that means it’s time to click on over and think of something to scribble on their Wall.

All their friends do the same, and the cumulative birthday wishes total in the dozens, maybe the hundreds.

But when that random acquaintance gets home, opens the mailbox, and finds a birthday card – that makes a different kind of impression.

We want to stay in touch with everyone in our vast network of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. But the time required to cultivate an authentic, solid connection with someone – it can’t be automated.

Our friendships are strengthened on the strength of our interactions. Mailing a birthday card, instead of clicking over to write on their wall, implies a different investment of time, and by extension, caring.

If you want to mail birthday cards to all of your friends in advance every week, you can sync your Facebook account with Google Calendar. But if that seems like overkill, try something more simple…

Send a handwritten thank-you note to someone every week.

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Every Monday, my task manager reminds me: who did something that you can appreciate this week?

First I think of someone that I want to express gratitude for. This alone is a worthy habit, because regular feelings of gratitude increase our health. (Documented by science.)

Then I reach over to my thank-you card box. I keep this on my desk so that there is minimal friction for this habit – this box has stamps, envelopes, cards, and a pen, everything I need. When it’s time for me to write a thank-you card to someone, I don’t want the habit to get derailed because I have to look for everything I need to make it happen – if the habit is worth your regular practice, devote the time and effort to get everything ready in advance.

After hand writing my weekly thank-you card, finding the address, stamping it, and putting the card on the corner of my desk, I get a predictable burst of dopamine. My brain makes me feel good.

And later, when my friend gets a handwritten thank-you card in the mail, it strengthens our friendship, because it’s not automated, it’s intentional.

All it takes is time, and not that much of it. My regular thank-you card habit takes me about five minutes every week, and it creates the genuine impressions that all this other marketing stuff we do online is only trying to imitate.

If you don’t have the supplies handy, you can start a weekly gratitude habit right now with your phone. If you use a task manager or a calendar, create a weekly recurring event to call someone and thank them for something that happened recently. Just call to say thank you. When is the best time – Wednesday on your drive home? Saturday mornings? Pick a time that you can reliably get five minutes to devote to those who have done you a service, and you will find your friendships growing stronger and your heart beating happier.