There is a ton of research out there that suggests having an attitude of gratitude is good for you. Some people are concerned that if you are grateful for someone or something, then that means you are indebted. However, researchers have “argued that gratitude is conceptually distinct from indebtedness, based on its having the opposite affective tone. People experience indebtedness as a negative, unpleasant state, whereas gratitude is a pleasant state.” And I agree with them.
Thank you notes and gratitude letters acknowledge another person’s actions. Thank you notes are short, and usually about discreet instances, such as a gift or a interview. Gratitude letters are longer, and usually recognize multiple ways in which you are thankful for this person in your life.
A gratitude letter is an acknowledgment that someone’s role in your life is not just as a supporting actor, but as a distinct and separate person that is taking time from their lives to do something that helps you. It is taking that person into consideration as something other than a means to your self actualization. It is letting them know they matter, they are appreciated and that they are seen. It may contribute to their sense of significance by letting them know how they affected you.
To get in the frame of mind to write your gratitude letter, start with the Peter Levine’s ‘felt sense of comfort’ exercise. Then think of a person that positively impacted your life. What might they have had to give up to help you? What ways have their actions may have served as examples for how you want to live? Did they have to do what they did for you? As you are thinking about what you are grateful for about this person, notice the feelings that might be coming up for you.
Now you are ready to write your letter. If you’re having a hard time thinking of the wording, here are some sentence suggestions:
- I appreciate you because . . .
- When you did X for me, I felt (in case you need a feeling thesaurus: feelings you might have when your needs are met, another link to feeling words)
- When you did X for me, it meant that I could now do _____, and because of that my life is (positive adjectives)
- When I saw/heard that you did X, it told me that you were a (positive adjective) person. I felt ___, knowing that you were in the world.