November is traditionally a month for giving thanks in America. Sometimes even a well-intended sense of thankfulness can be vague and purposeless, though. For example, an undirected thought like, “Oh yes, I’m thankful for my job, my family, and my various other blessings,” may not be specific enough to have much meaning for us.
The “Gratitude Visit,” studied by Positive Psychology pioneer Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, is simple yet incredibly powerful. It produced the largest single measured positive change in happiness of any of the five positive psychology methods studied in this randomized controlled trial. The gratitude visit generated statistically significant improvements in the happiness of the letter writers that persisted for an entire month after the event. This effect rivals that of some pharmaceuticals! Perhaps the gratitude visit is so powerful because it so simple, personal, and direct. You can do it, too.
Here’s what you do:
1. Write a one page letter addressing someone who has made a positive difference in your life but has not been properly thanked. Use your own words. Simply tell stories and specific examples of what this person means to you.
2. Make plans to visit. Board a plane if you must; it’s important to do this in person.
3. Don’t yet tell the recipient your specific purpose for the visit. If they ask anything, simply saying “I’d like to see you,” is enough for now.
4. Find a private time and space. Read the letter aloud slowly, with feeling, face to face.
5. Allow the recipient and yourself time to react and savor the moment.
6. Give the recipient the letter to keep.
The gratitude visit redirects our attention outward to what is positive in our lives. It can solidify personal relationships. Although the happiness levels of the letter recipients could not be measured before and after the visits, I can tell you from personal experience that both the writer and recipient can benefit immensely!
This September, I put my intentions into action and traveled to another state to present a gratitude letter to someone who has been very important in my life. Writing the letter had taken just 1-2 hours during the prior week. My words and thoughts had flowed easily to paper, because what I wanted to convey was so clear in my mind. Once the letter was written, my emotions ebbed and flowed between eagerness and anxiety for several days. The whole thing felt a bit risky. Would my point get across? Would the words sound corny? Would I embarrass myself? I almost considered calling it quits, rationalizing, “Well, she already knows I care, so this is just redundant…” The opportunity to finally read the letter aloud a few days later was a welcome relief. None of my fears came to pass, of course. Surprise led to tears led to joy led to hugs as I shared stories of how this person is so special in my life. It was humbling to realize that in a few short minutes I was able to help bring such a depth of happiness to someone else and to myself. The gratitude visit was unquestionably the best thing I’ve done all year.
Take a moment and consider whom would you like to thank. Share your story of gratitude!