A gratitude letter is just as it seems: a letter of appreciation that you write to someone who has impacted you personally. Writing a letter of gratitude is a great way to show appreciation for someone who made a difference in your life. Sitting down to construct your letter, whether you handwrite it or type it out, allows you to reflect on how someone helped shape you into the person you are today.
Writing a gratitude letter may not seem like a huge deal, but thanks to brain imaging studies, we now know it’s a powerful exercise that produces a cascade of positive, long-lasting emotions — for both the recipient and the letter writer.
The benefits of gratitude, in general, are well-documented. That’s why happiness experts commonly recommend keeping a gratitude journal or reciting what you’re grateful for every morning. It’s no surprise that practicing gratitude elicits feelings of, well, gratitude, but it also brings forward other positive emotions, as well. These include feelings of elation and connectedness with others (which I think we can all benefit from)
Researchers also note that gratitude:
- Reinforces new and existing relationships
- Predicts more committed, longer-lasting relationships
- Improves relationships and results in spending more time together
- Reduces the likelihood of experiencing envy, narcissism and cynicism
- Improves sleep and immune system health
- Can reduce inflammation
Gratitude is also part of new, cutting-edge research aimed at building resilience, something more important than ever today.
Why Write One?
Figuring out how to write a gratitude letter may seem daunting, but it’s important to understand that your letter doesn’t have to be long or fancy to be beneficial. “A gratitude letter is one of the most powerful tools for increasing happiness because it can forge social bonds and really change someone’s life,” explains Laurie Santos, Ph.D, professor of psychology and instructor of Yale’s Science of Wellbeing course.
In fact, we now know that writing a letter of gratitude can actually change your brain for the better. In 2015, Indiana University researchers published a study showing that people who participated in gratitude letter writing experienced more gratitude themselves and “significantly greater neural modulation by gratitude in the medial prefrontal cortex three months later.”
So How Do You Write a Gratitude Letter?
- Finding a quiet spot when you have a half-hour free.
- Writing a heartfelt letter to that person explaining how she or he touched your life and why that person is meaningful to you.
- Making the letter as long as you like, but aiming for at least 300 words, which is about a page.
- When you schedule your visit, don’t tell the person you’ll be reading him or her your letter.
- Do, however, make sure you allow at least 30 minutes for your gratitude visit, so you’ll have time to bond and discuss any emotions the reading bubbles up for you and your recipient.
While reading this you may know exactly who deserves a letter in your life but if that’s not the case for you, maybe one of these suggestions will feel right. Just make sure it’s someone you never properly thanked:
- A coach or instructor who mentored you
- A teacher who opened up your horizons
- An aunt, uncle or other relative
- A colleague or friend
- A health care worker who saved or otherwise positively changed your life
When it comes to physically writing a letter of gratitude:
- Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”)
- Don’t worry about grammar or spelling
- Be specific in describing what this person did, why you are grateful for that person and how that person’s behavior affected your life