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Science has proven that gratitude and specifically writing a gratitude letter has an extremely positive impact on our mood and emotions. So why are we not writing a gratitude letter every day?
Let me start by saying that if you are thinking of writing a gratitude letter, even if you might think that the actual writing is the hard part, it’s actually not. Delivering it’s the hardest part, but it’s equally the most fulfilling.
Gratitude letters are not mainstream and I wondered why. Science has proven that gratitude and specifically writing a gratitude letter has an extremely positive impact on our mood and emotions. So why are we not writing a gratitude letter every day? Besides the time it might take (which probably is the first thing that pops to mind), the main reason we don’t do it is actually because we believe the other person already knows how much we appreciate them, how grateful we are or what big impact they made in our lives. Spoiler alert. They don’t. Psychologists call this mindset the “curse of knowledge”: once we know something, we find it hard to imagine that other people don’t know it. Are you thinking, wait, but surely that doesn’t apply to gratitude, right? It’s obvious when we show gratitude, right? Well, spoiler alert. No, it’s actually not as obvious as we think.
In a study conducted by Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley “Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation”,participants in three separate experiments were asked to write gratitude letters and then predict:
how happy, and
how awkward recipients would feel.
Recipients then reported how receiving an expression of gratitude actually made them feel.
By this point, it might not come as a surprise that expressers:
significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful,
underestimated how positive recipients would feel, and
overestimated how awkward recipients would feel.
So let’s get straight to how to actually write the perfect gratitude letter.
There is no right or wrong gratitude letter. Let me start by taking off all pressure when it comes to structure, grammar and so on. This is not an assignment. The recipient will be absorbed in the warmth of your words and your feelings.
Be open and honest and state “the obvious”. Don’t assume the other person surely knows it.
Highlight a specific behavior/action/moment. The message is more powerful if you mention exactly what you are grateful for.
State the impact. Big, small or transformative, mention in your letter what was the impact.
Mention a specific character trait. What was the character trait that you appreciate and admire in them and would like to highlight?
Deliver it in person or over video call/phone call. Alternatively, it can be done via post or via email. Consider keeping it in a special place if the letter you wrote is for someone to whom you can’t send it.
Please, do not assume anything of the above, including a specific character trait is known by the receiver, therefore it can be left out. Some of you might be aware of the Johari Window (below) and the reason why I mention it, is that oftentimes there are things we know about others, but that actually they don’t know about themselves. And even if they do, they’ll love to hear it from you.
When it comes to gratitude we are all comfortable and probably doing a lot of saying “thank you”. Easy, straightforward but not necessarily truly showing how grateful we are for those around us. Below you can find an easy example in a work environment as well as my actual gratitude letter I wrote this week.
Example 1. Showing gratitude to a work colleague
“Maria, thank you so much. You set aside your own work to help me, listened patiently , delivered valuable feedback and helped me prepare for potential objections. It helped me get past my fear, gain confidence and be better prepared for the meeting. It reminded me how generous, caring and giving you are. I see that in you and I admire you.”
Example 2. This is the letter I wrote this week for someone (Fictitious name given to protect privacy).
I hope you are doing well. It’s been a while since we last talked, sorry for that.
Lately I have been reflecting on my life journey and what got me where I am today. Looking back over the years, I can’t ignore the role you played in that journey.
You probably don’t know this, but the day before I got the call to interview for my internship position (10 years ago!) I had accepted a completely different internship in PR for a high end fashion company in New York. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview for one of my top three employers at the time.
The moment I met you and all throughout our interview I felt an immediate, deep connection which would be maintained for the entire time we worked together. I wanted to let you know that you changed my life the moment you decided to give me the opportunity to join your team. I am thankful to you for believing in me, for giving me the opportunity and room to grow as a person and as a professional and for always having my back. You became my role model and my mentor and my guide through my initial steps in my career and for that I am extremely grateful. Thank you for being such a kind and generous person. Having you as my leader so early in my career has made such a difference in my life.
I hope this article inspired you, motivated you and gave you the tools to start writing your own gratitude letter. It’s a simple way to create and spread happiness. Take action today and start writing.
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” John F. Kennedy