The gratitude letter

The word that is heard perishes, but the letter that is written remains.

At this time of global uncertainty, many people are feeling weighted down by negative emotions: fear, sadness, worry, regret. Here’s a simple activity you can do which will not only brighten your day but improve another person’s as well.

Professor Christopher Peterson taught positive psychology at the University of Michigan. One of the assignments he gave his students was to write a gratitude letter. The instructions were fairly simple: think about someone who has made a real difference in your life and write that person a letter expressing your gratitude for the influence they have had on you. The letter is to be hand written and mailed with a stamp; e-mails don’t count. The letter needs to mention something specific that you’re grateful for: some lesson they taught you, an encouraging word when you were down, or a helping hand of some kind.

The letter needn’t be long, but it should be sincere. To help you get started, here’s a good way to begin the letter. (Use words which are most comfortable for you.)

Dear __________,

I have never taken the time to express how grateful I am for the influence you have had on my life. As I think about it, I realize I’ve been remiss in waiting so long to tell you how much I treasure the things you’ve done for me. I am especially grateful for __________.

Professor Peterson said that these letters work over 99% of the time. The recipients are genuinely touched, often in a profound way, by such letters. But the value isn’t limited to the recipients. He said that the writers are also positively influenced by composing and sending these letters.

We all know that there’s been a serious decline in the number of letters written. Handwriting and mailing a letter creates a memory that will stand out. Professor Peterson had many stories of people who treasured having received such a letter. They generally keep these letters and reread them often, reliving the warm feelings each time they do.

Writing a gratitude letter will make you feel special and will greatly improve your level of happiness. My hope is that the process will feel so good that you’ll decide to do it again and again.

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.
1749 – 1832

Copyright © 2020 John Chancellor

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