When was the last time you told a person how much he meant to you? How he helped you during your lifetime? And offered examples of what he said or did that made such an impact?
Researchers Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson tested five different exercises in 2005 and found that writing, in letter format, that for which you are grateful, and delivering that letter to the person to whom you are grateful, revealed the greatest positive effect on participants’ happiness one month later. Additionally, a 2009 research experiment led by Jeffrey Froh found that even adolescents who typically didn’t show positive emotions experienced a significant boost in emotions that lasted two months after the activity.
Is this a difficult activity? Not at all.
- Think of a person who did something for you for which you are grateful, but you have never expressed gratitude. This could be anyone from a friend, to a relative, to a mentor, or a teacher; the choices are limitless.
- Write a letter to the person you choose, describing in the most possible specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful, and how this person’s behavior affected your life.
- Now describe what you are currently doing in your life, and how often you recall the efforts this person made.
- Remember that neither grammar nor spelling need be perfect, and try to keep the letter short and sweet…about a page long.
- Now, try to plan a visit to that person, letting them know you have something special to share, but not telling them the exact purpose of the meeting.
- When you meet, tell them the truth: You are grateful, and wrote them a letter explaining why, and you would like to read the letter to them.
- After reading the letter to this person, pay attention to his or her reaction and engage in whatever conversation results.
- Leave the letter with the person as a memento of the experience.
- If a personal visit is not possible, then arrange a distance call in advance, and mail them the letter after the call.
Such a simple activity, but one that has such cherished results.
Adults can complete this activity, as well as children beginning in about the third grade. And the benefits are truly far-reaching.
Gratitude releases us from some of our more toxic emotions. And expressing the gratitude, even if it is not shared with the other person, still helps the writer contemplate that for which he is grateful; it serves as a positive reminder of something that went well.
The benefits of expressing gratitude take time to be realized, almost like having a snowball effect, but the positive effects on the brain are undeniable. It’s important to realize that, more than money, your words and actions impact others.
In fact, you could just be changing the world…one…person… at…a…time.