Gratitude is one of the key ingredients to living a happy and fulfilling life. So this month we invite you to do a special Thanksgiving exercise – a gratitude letter. This has been shown by scientific research to positively impact your happiness and that of those around you.
How to do it
Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. This could be a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. Try to pick someone who is stil
l alive and could meet you face-to-face in the next week.
Now, write a letter to one of these people in the space below, using the following guidelines:
1. Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”)
2. Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
3. Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
4. Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
5. Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (~300 words).
Next, plan a visit with the recipient, which will allow you to deliver the letter in person. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.
If physical distance keeps you from making a visit, you may choose to arrange a phone call, video chat, or send them a video recording of you reading the letter. If possible, contact the person now to schedule a time.
Some general guidelines to keep in mind for the visit:
1. When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude; ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.
2. Take your time reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.
3. After you have read the letter to the recipient, be receptive to his or her reaction and discuss your feelings together.
4. Remember to give the letter to the person before you leave.
See it in Action
Why You Should Try It
Feeling gratitude can improve health and happiness; expressing gratitude also strengthens relationships. Yet sometimes expressions of thanks can be fleeting and superficial. This exercise encourages you to express gratitude in a thoughtful, deliberate way by writing—and, ideally, delivering—a letter of gratitude to a person you have never properly thanked.
Why It Works
The letter affirms positive things in your life and reminds you how others have cared for you—life seems less bleak and lonely if someone has taken such a supportive interest in you. Visiting the giver allows you to strengthen your connection with her and remember how others value you as an individual.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside
Kristin Layous, Ph.D., Stanford University
Martin Seligman, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania