By Gail Siggelakis ~
The way you came into my life at the two crossroads of my work-life, always has made me feel it was bershert, from God. Such an influence you’ve had on the course of my life! First, you got me the interview that launched my 38-year teaching career. There I got to make a difference in so many lives and established such deep, meaningful relationships. Then with another nudge from the Universe, I was reunited with you after a 30-year hiatus, and you guided me through all the stages of publishing to publish my dream-fulfilling book!…I am grateful and feel blessed beyond blessed for your precious friendship.
Pretty nice thing to receive, right?
This is an excerpt from a letter I recently wrote to a friend as part of an assignment I had from an online course. We were to choose one of the new habits (called rewirements) that we were willing to practice for four weeks in the hope of developing a long-term habit. I chose to write gratitude letters because I love to express my heart to others and was curious if writing the letters would indeed make me feel happier as the research suggests.
Oh, and an important piece of the assignment is the letter must be personally delivered then read. Now that can feel awkward, and during these Covid-19 times, can be especially difficult because we are now just starting to visit with people, 6 feet apart, of course. So most of my letters I’ve read via Zoom or FaceTime then emailed them as a precious keepsake.
I was first intrigued by the research when I was writing a chapter on appreciative words for my book, The Affirming Way of Life: See the Good, Speak the Good, Spread the Good. Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, found that expressing gratitude to someone who has made a big difference in your life, increased the happiness of participants in his study more than any other intervention, with benefits lasting up to a month. Powerful!
Benefits to the Letter Writer and the Recipient
I can’t tell you yet if the happy feeling lasts for a month, but I can tell you all the good writing and sharing the letters has brought to me and the recipients of the letters. For me, reflecting on the positive ways other dear people have impacted my life shows me how loved and supported I’ve been.
1. Too often we focus on what’s missing or wrong in our life, but a gratitude letter shifts our attention to the blessings we’ve been graced with. In my chapter on appreciative words, I talk about the grateful pause. I discovered this technique as I was composing a thank you letter to a woman who was kindly looking in on my ill father.
2. So far, I’ve written seven letters. As a whole, they show me how much I’ve grown. The following is from multiple letters:
“I came to you feeling shame and disconnected from my communities. Bit by bit you helped me trust myself and become a deeply happy person…You showed me I had a message that was valued…You saw the best in me and helped me to see it too…Your faith in me has made all the difference in me pursuing my dream, and using my talents to make a difference in the world…You inspired me with four practices that bring me great peace and joy that I share with others.”
I say to myself, you’ve come a long way baby. And I know it’s because as the Beatles sing, I get by with a little (a lot of) help from my friends.
3. Probably the thing I love most about these gratitude letters is the closeness it makes me feel to the people who’ve most deeply touched my life. I would say I spent about 30 minutes writing each letter. As I reflected on the person’s contributions to my life, my heart swelled with love for him or her. I imagine my letters creating golden webs of connection between myself and my recipients. Reading the letters was teary, joyful, truly uplifting moments for both of us. I wrote down some of the responses to inspire you to write your own letters.
“Oy vey, I don’t think I will ever feel sad or lonely again…I will always cherish your letter. Your words so truly describe our friendship and how we mutually love and care for one another. I will read your letter often when I am down, when I feel alone when I need your comforting thoughts…I am so touched you took the time to write this letter. This is what’s important in life. I treasure you.”
And when I asked my husband, Gus, the first letter recipient, how he liked the letter he said, “I’d like to frame it.” Done!
Take a grateful pause and make a list of people who’ve made a big difference in your life.
Commit to writing one heartfelt letter a week. Explain how he or she has touched your life and why he or she is meaningful to you. I promise you the joy you will feel will be the best moments you experience in the week.
Call, visit, FaceTime, or Zoom the person and read him or her your letter. Then give them a copy in person or via email.
Keep a copy of each letter for yourself. Reflect on your blessings and personal growth as you reread your letters.
Savor the closeness you are nurturing with those who’ve touched your life.
The subtitle of my book encapsulates the impact of gratitude letters.
When we SEE THE GOOD in our own life because of our relationships,
and we SPEAK THE GOOD by writing gratitude letters and sharing them,
WE SPREAD THE GOOD energy to our relationships and to the larger world!
Why not write a gratitude letter today?!
To order Gail’s book, click here: https://theaffirmingway.com/
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