Have you ever experienced the moment when you know it is someone’s birthday, you want to send them a note (either a text or a birthday card), but you have no idea what to say? That moment of not knowing what to say doesn’t doesn’t only happen when we don’t know someone very well; it happens all the time. Sometimes we run out of words, or have words we are shy to share.
In order to find out what the Internet says, I googled ‘What to say in a Birthday Card’. Here is an example of what I have found, which are prescriptions and word-for-word examples of what to say. I don’t know about you, but those prescriptive sentences make me sad. There is nothing personal and meaningful about them, nothing that will make the other person feel seen, noticed and appreciated. Instead, they will read the note in 2 seconds, and move on with their lives, never looking at the text again and throwing away the card within 48 hrs (after the obligatory 2 day period when everyone keeps the card).
If you really want to say something meaningful and make a moment for the other person to feel loved and noticed by you, you need to dig deeper than “Enjoy your special day” or “Have the best birthday ever!”
When thinking about what to say in a birthday card, we most often start at the mechanism level - beating our head against the wall trying to find the right words. Instead, what if we started at a higher level by asking ourselves questions regarding how we feel about this person, what we appreciate about them, etc. In other words, if we figure out how we feel and what we think, knowing what to say to them will be easy. Once you figure out the why, the what takes care of itself.
In practice, this is what that approach would look like:
1. Ask yourself the following questions:
What is my favorite shared memory with this person?
What do I look up to them for?
What do I appreciate about this person?
How do they make my life awesome?
What do I wish for them in the next xxx years?
What quote or inside joke/phrase do I want to share with them?
No need to answer all of those, but run through them and see which prompt evokes a feeling in you of knowing that that is exactly what you want to share. I prompted one of the contributors to the Birthday Book with the first question, and her response was so clean and simple: “Becky and TJ were my favorite part of the pandemic.” How cool is that? A short message that lets the recipients know how they were meaningful to their neighbor in a hard time. You don’t need to write novels, but find an answer that is specific to the person you are writing to.
3. Choose a specific thought and write it down.
The key is specific. You will come up with something specific in step #2 when you answer those prompts. Now it’s time to translate it into an actual note. So, if your answer to ‘How do they make your life awesome?’ is that you can always count on them, whether it be dogsitting, carpooling your kids or being a friend that listens well, say exactly that. Tell them how they make your life awesome with specific examples versus bundling it all in ‘Thank you for being awesome’ or ‘Thank you for all that you do.’
Once you know what you want to say, actually saying it is easy. Spend the most time on step #2, figure out what it is you think and feel about the person and then express it. Be specific, don’t be shy and be you. Not every birthday note needs to be touchy-feely. Quite the opposite, you might prefer humor. That’s great - be humorous and make the other person smile. But in all cases, be specific.
There isn’t a formula for a perfect birthday card. What makes it perfect is that it is expressive of how you feel about this person. We all have something to say, and sometimes we just need to be prompt’d.
By saying something meaningful, we make a moment.