Gratitude is a powerful force for good.
Expressing gratitude can improve your sleep. It can help you fight depression. It can even get you to exercise more.
Overall, gratitude is really good for us 🙌. But to make those benefits stick, you must make gratitude a practice: do it intentionally and frequently, in other words.
In this season of celebrating moms, dads, and grads, here’s why gratitude matters — and how to write 🖋 letters of gratitude to those you care about.
Gratitude deepens our social bonds.
By benefiting both others and ourselves in tandem, gratitude has a multiplier effect on our relationships.
We may even be primed for gratitude: making it as important to our well-being as drinking enough water 💧or getting enough sleep 😴.
Glenn Fox, a neuroscientist at USC, describes gratitude as a “key function” of our lives as social animals.
“People who did not develop gratitude or grateful relationships with others, it’s very unlikely they would have survived in a social context,” he says.
The lesson: Bringing gratitude into your life helps you honor your and others’ needs and strengthens your social ties.
Gratitude’s effects are long-lasting.
Another study in 2017 looked at how practicing gratitude benefits one’s mental health.
In this study, some of the participants wrote a gratitude letter to another person each week for three weeks. The other participants either wrote privately about their negative feelings, or did no writing at all.
In contrast to the two control groups, the letter-writers saw a big lift to their mental health — one that lasted four and even 12 weeks 🤗 after the exercise ended.
The lesson: Making gratitude a habit for even a short time will affect you (positively) for a long time.
Gratitude has the power to surprise us.
A 2018 study sought to measure why, despite its many benefits, gratitude can be hard for us to express.
The study had participants 1) write letters of gratitude and 2) predict the letter recipients’ reactions. Not only did the letter-writers overestimate how awkward the recipients would feel, they underestimated how happy they would be. 🤯
“[Gratitude] expressers recognized that their recipient would feel good, but recipients still felt even better than the expressers expected,” one of the researchers said.
The lesson: Sit down and write that gratitude letter. It’ll likely have an even bigger impact on the recipient than you think.
How to write your own gratitude letter
- 📝 Plan to write the letter by hand.
Hand-writing the letter invests you in the activity and gives the recipient something to cherish. “The point is to create a physical artifact that the person first enjoys as a surprise in the mailbox, and then can keep as a memento,” the New York Times says.
- 🤲 Focus on your most cherished memories with the person.
Think hard about why the recipient matters to you. Why is this person deserving of your gratitude? What about their actions has stayed in your mind? Outline these thoughts or put them in bullet points.
- 📍 Be as specific as you can about why you are grateful.
In writing the letter, details help bring your feelings to life. You should be specific about what the person did and how it affected you, UC-Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action program suggests.
- 🗄 Keep a copy of your own.
Before you deliver the letter, make a photocopy or capture a picture with your phone. You can treasure the letter as a memento of your own — or refer to it to write the person another, unique, gratitude letter in the future.
Photo by Bookblock on Unsplash.