One year ago many of us never imagined how truly thankful we would be in the twelve months that were to follow. Thankful for our health. For a roof over our heads and love ones at our side. For the wave of deep kindness and support when faced with tragedy. And for community, democracy and hope. But, actually, for author Gina Hamadey, gratitude was not only something she thought about, she began tackling an exercise of thank-you note writing before the pandemic began.
So when we learned that this long-time editor, writer and content creator was publishing a book about her journey, we had to know more. In I Want to Thank You (TarcherPerigee, spring 2021), Gina recounts her year of writing, in fact, 365 thank you notes to friends, neighbors, family members, mentors and more.
So why did this busy entrepreneur, writer and mother pivot to letter writing two years ago? We, of course, had a hunch; but were curious about the motivation (and the endurance) for such a feat. So we sat down with Gina to discuss…
Our Chat With Gina Hamadey
Tell us about your career path and what you are doing today?
I came up in magazines — working as an editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, Rachael Ray Every Day, and Food & Wine, where I landed my long-time dream job as Travel Editor. Only then to be laid off along with much of the staff three years later. I pivoted to content marketing, working with brands on content strategy (I started an agency called Penknife Media). While still taking on media outlet writing assignments and writing a Brooklyn guidebook and a stylish nacho cookbook. I launched what I called my ‘Thank You Year’ (more on that below) in 2018, and when it was over, I knew there was a book there. And I just had to sell it!
You took on the beautiful, if not incredibly ambitious, task of spending a year writing thank you notes. How did the ‘gratitude’ project begin?
I had a stack of thank you notes to write to fundraiser donors in January 2018, a task I was not looking forward to, by the way. But as I wrote them out during a commute on the NJ Transit, I found the process felt undeniably GOOD. A calm focus came over me — it was the antidote to frantic social media scrolling. I was thinking about this on January 31, after I’d written the last note of the batch: 31 notes, I counted. Huh, I thought. I’ve written a thank you note for every day of the year so far. What if I kept it up?
Were the recipients surprised? Were you surprised by the response?
I was mindful about putting these out into the world with no expectation of a reply. But yes — the responses were wonderful. A lot of “this made my day!” and a fair number of snail mail replies. Pure joy. A surprising thing was how frequently I heard some take on, “I am having a tough time right now, and this helped.”
How did you decide to turn the note writing into I Want to Thank You?
Every month was dedicated to a different group of recipients — neighbors, friends, mentors, authors–and so each month felt really different, both in the writing of the notes and in the experiencing of benefits. I knew there was a book there. Once I wrote a proposal, secured an agent and sold the idea, I got to work talking to gratitude and brain experts to help me understand that initial peaceful feeling, as well as the other benefits.
So many of us have struggled with productivity during the pandemic, how did you find time to write?
All of this was in 2018. I didn’t write all that many notes in 2020, though I did write a few. And I expressed a lot of gratitude via phone and text.
How is Gina Hamadey the person different for the experience? What lessons can you share?
I highlighted a lesson for each of the book’s 13 chapters, so there were a lot of them! But one of the biggest lessons is that gratitude is powerful medicine. And people know that — it’s been proven again and again, that gratitude is good for your mental and physical health. But most of those studies are about gratitude journaling. EXPRESSING gratitude — rather than writing in a notebook where the feelings stay trapped on your nightstand — is truly where the magic happens.