Feeling grateful? Consider writing a gratitude letter

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Albert Schweitzer

We’ve all probably  heard by now that gratitude is really important and highly beneficial to any human being (and to some non-human primates too).  In fact, researchers have argued that gratitude is a product of evolution that can be traced all the way back to primate behavior. 

What does gratitude mean, and why should we practice it? 

Alright, before I start diving deeper, I must say that I will most likely reference a lot of articles (research and pop-science ones) coming out from the Greater Good Science Center based at the University of California, Berkeley.  Check them out if you’re curious to learn more about gratitude, living a meaningful life, well-being, bridging differences, compassion, and so much more! 

According to the Greater Good Science Center, gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness,” a way of acknowledging other people, a relationship-strengthening emotion (you can read more on that here). For many of us, probably gratitude is synonym with thankfulness, with kindness, and with simply showing appreciation for other individuals. 

Practicing gratitude has numerous social, physical, and psychological benefits, including but not limited to:

  • brings us happiness
  • reduces anxiety and depression (and it’s actually often used in counseling and therapy)
  • it is overall good for our bodies as it can help strengthen the immune system, lowering blood pressure, and reducing pain and discomfort
  • it helps improve our sleep
  • it can strengthen relationships by making us feel closer to other people
  • it promotes forgiveness and a pay-it-forward attitude

All these benefits are not only great for individuals, but they spill over into the workplace, into schools, and universities as we bring our whole selves to work and school.  So no matter how we look at it, practicing gratitude is a win-win-type situation.

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How to write a gratitude letter?

Writing gratitude letters is a fairly easy exercise. You can write a gratitude letter to your friends, professors, colleagues, supervisors, family, and even to yourself! Once you wrote it, you can choose to send it off if you feel comfortable doing so, or you can choose to simply keep it for yourself.  Either way, the exercise will be valuable and will help you cultivate a deeper appreciation for the people you interact with in your personal and professional life. 

When writing the gratitude letter, it is important to focus on one or two points at most, looking to be specific on what this person did for you and how it impacted you. It can be a paragraph or up to 300-400 words, depending on the level of detail you'd like to incorporate. This article does a great job at presenting an outline for a gratitude letter. 

If you’re worried about what the recepient of a gratitude letter might think or say, I have excellent news: a recent study has shown that people who receive a gratitude letter are very excited and feel great about it.

Where to start?

When considering where to start with writing a gratitude letter, the first step is to determine who the recepient is. That sounds intuitive, right? And it is, but it’s also a conscious choice that determines how you approach the letter and what you might write in it.  So before starting, think if you could give credit to someone today, who would that person be? The pandemic edition of that question might be, if you’d like to hug and smile really big at someone you haven't seem in a while, who would that person be? 

Once you determined who the letter recepient is, try to write a few bullet points or specific things for which you appreciate that person. Have they said something nice and impactful to you? Did they go out of their way to do something for you? Did they help you learn and develop any skills or knowledge? Were they there for you at a crucial moment? Don’t feel pressured to look for monumental moments - sometimes, the most significant impact someone can have on us might come under apparent mundane circumstances, yet it can mean the world to us. 

Obviously, the next part involves actually sitting down and writing the letter. Find a comfortable place, grab your beverage of choice, and pour your heart out. Remember, the letter should be concise and clearly explain what it is that you’re grateful for, how this person’s words or actions made you feel back then when it happened, and now, in your current personal and/or professional life. Don’t worry about crafting the perfect sentence or saying too little/too much. Simply follow your intuition and let it flow. When you end, make sure to convey gratitude and perhaps even sneak in a compliment. The concluding sentence can also serve as an excellent opportunity for suggesting to reconnect in the future. 

Want to learn more about gratitude? I’ll leave you with this article, which does an excellent job at explaining the various dimensions of gratitude as well as various practices that we can incorporate into our lives to cultivate more aware and thankful selves.