As preparation for this exercise, take the Gratitude Survey on the Web site (www.authentichappiness.org).
The positive emotion of gratitude connects us to the kindness of others. Our society seems to lack gratitude rituals, formal ways of expressing thanks to those who have done well by us.
Think of the people — parents, friends, teachers, coaches, teammates, employers, and so on — who have been especially kind to you but have never heard you express your gratitude.
Write and rewrite a Gratitude Letter to one of these individuals, describing in concrete terms why you are grateful. The letter should be concrete: Name specific things they did for you, and exactly how they affected your life. Tell what you are doing now and how you often remember their efforts. Make it sing.
Deliver the letter personally and plan to read it aloud in the person’s presence. Call the person in advance and make an appointment with them. Do not tell him or her the precise purpose of the meeting (be vague). Once you’ve shared the letter, discuss your feelings, more specifics of your gratitude and your vision for the future.
This exercise was originally designed as part of a class. As part of the exercise, individual students were encouraged to share their letter of gratitude with the class and to reflect on their experience of expressing their gratitude. Feel free to share your letter and your experience with others. If you like, you can also complete the exercise with friends, family members or others in a group.
Whether you are working alone or in a group, a week or so after you’ve completed the gratitude letter and visit, contemplate the following questions.
- How did you feel as you wrote your letter?
- How did the other person react to your expression of gratitude? And how were you affected by their reaction?
- How long did these feelings last after you presented your letter?
- Did you recall the experience in the days that followed the reading of the letter? If so, how did this recollection affect your mood?
- Have you thought of others with whom you wish to share your gratitude?
Modification for group setting
Host a “gratitude night” in which members of the group invite a guest who has been important in their lives but whom they have not properly thanked. Give individuals the opportunity to stand up in front of the group with their guest and read their letter publicly.
Every day find an opportunity to express your gratitude. This expression can be as simple as a sincere “thank you” said to someone who holds the door open for you, or it can be as elaborate as the gratitude letter described above. Just make it a habit to build gratitude into your daily schedule.
Example Gratitude Letter
Reprinted with permission from the Authentic Happiness Newsletter Exercise Series.
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