Gratitude Part 2: Writing a gratitude letter

Writing a letter of gratitude is a great way to show appreciation for someone that made a difference in your life.

Have you ever heard others talk about gratitude, but you’re not really sure what it is? You’re not alone. In this series of Michigan State University Extension articles, we’re going to explore what gratitude is and ideas for including gratefulness in your life, how to write a gratitude letter, health benefits of gratitude, and the differences between gratitude and thankfulness.

In this article, we’re going to explore how to write a gratitude letter. But before we begin, let’s take a quick moment to review what gratitude is. Gratitude is an emotion expressing an appreciation for what one has, as opposed to what one wants, according to Psychology Today. Furthermore, Innerbody Research offers that gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what one receives – tangible or intangible — as they acknowledge the goodness in their lives.

Now let’s look at writing a gratitude letter. If you’ve never done it before, that’s okay! This information will help you get started right away.

Sometimes it can be difficult to start practicing gratitude by looking at ourselves and the good things in our own lives, but we can easily identify the good in others. This is a great place to start: writing a letter of gratitude to someone that made a difference in your life will bring out the strongest positive emotions within you and the person to which you’re writing.

Begin by thinking about someone that has done or said something (tangible or intangible) that made a difference in your life. It can be a relative, colleague, significant other, volunteer, service worker or friend. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, in collaboration with HopeLab, launched Greater Good in Action, which collects research-based methods for a happier, more meaningful life. They suggest that you take the following steps to write a gratitude letter:

  1. Write as though you are addressing this person directly, ie. “Dear ______.”
  2. Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
  3. Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
  4. Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
  5. Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (approximately 300 words).

Next, you should try to deliver your letter in person, if at all possible. To do this, consider the following steps:

  1. Plan a visit with the recipient. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.
  2. When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude. Ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.
  3. Take your time reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.
  4. After you have read the letter, be receptive to his or her reaction and discuss your feelings together.
  5. Remember to give the letter to the person when you leave.
  6. If physical distance keeps you from a personal visit, try to arrange a video chat.

You may be wondering what the difference is between being grateful (writing a gratefulness letter) and being thankful (writing a thank you note). Although similar, being grateful implies that you have been affected by another person or thing, just as it is in your life. Remember that being grateful is about appreciating what one has, as opposed to what one wants. Being thankful or thanking someone often implies that you are acknowledging your thanks for something that someone has given you.

Remember that the key to gratefulness is simple – it’s practice. The more you integrate gratefulness into your life, the easier and more routine it will become. It won’t take long for you to notice a change in yourself and others. 

Other articles in series

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