Greeting cards are a time-honored staple in the birthday gift category. But most people, at one point or another, have found themselves staring at the blank white interior of a birthday card, frozen with uncertainty and fearful of writing something stupid, banal, or otherwise regrettable.
This doesn’t have to be you. We’ve put together a list of ideas to banish your birthday card writer’s block for good. Though the list may be short, you can use some variation of what you see here for years and years before anyone will catch on that you’re copping to a formula.
So here you go: from the useful to the funny to the bizarre, here are the only 5 ideas you’ll ever need to help you fill out those pesky birthday cards.
1. If you’re older (or just smarter), give them advice (but don’t be condescending)
This is an old classic, but the key lies in striking the right tone. When done correctly, your advice will be well received, and could even help make the recipient rich, successful, more attractive, or simply less prone to catastrophic blunders (hey, we all have to start somewhere).
On the other hand, get this one wrong, and you risk looking like a self-absorbed buffoon.
Stick to what you know, be gracious and optimistic, and this one will come off just fine.
Here are a couple of examples to illustrate.
“Though I anticipate dark days ahead for you, if you follow my advice you may still amount to something…”
“Your cunning, persistence, and outside-the-box thinking are some of your most outstanding character traits. I’ve got some ideas for how we can apply these to legal activities and help you leave the world of petty crime…”
2. Recount a funny story they wish you would forget
Birthdays are a time for reminiscing, and that includes the unwanted kind.
Recalling a story that your birthday sufferer would like to bury among the scrapheap of history is a great way to show that you really know them. It’s through shared experiences that we truly bond. Here is your chance to share the experience of embarrassing the hell out of them.
“Just the other day I was driving by the McCormick’s old farmland, and I remembered the time you accidentally peed on their electric fence. Are you still experiencing urological symptoms?”
3. Wish them luck on an upcoming life event
This is another old standby. Every phase of life brings new challenges and opportunities, and everyone likes it when their friends and family acknowledge these events and offer encouragement. Again, tone is everything.
“Congratulations on having your first child on the way! Becoming a parent is challenging but so rewarding!”
“Jane, here’s to hoping you retain a healthy outlook and a sense of purpose as you approach menopause…”
4. Make up a story that never happened, but write as if it did
This is especially interesting when the recipient has reached middle-age or beyond. As the memory naturally becomes hazy, you may be able to convince them that your invented tale really happened.
“By the way, do you remember that time we got drunk and [insert felony here]. The statute of limitations is almost up and I’m thinking about writing a book about it…”
5. Stoke their gratitude by giving them a list of very bad things that never happened
Gratitude is one of the most powerful of all human emotions, and is strongly tied to mental health and life satisfaction. But it’s not only the positives that can reinforce gratitude; the avoidance of many negative outcomes is also critical to a fulfilling life.
Just one word of caution: avoid talking about things that might still happen.
“Michael, now that you have made it out of adolescence and into adulthood, let’s be thankful that the school board voted not to expel you and the Johnsons decided not to sue…”
Not so good:
“Michael, now that you have made it out of adolescence and into adulthood, let’s count your blessings. You were never publicly shamed by your peers or suffered a debilitating sports injury, and if your parents were serious about disowning you, it’s too late for that now.”
“Ariel, let’s take this time to reflect and give thanks that you have not contracted a terminal disease or become disfigured…”