Mother’s Day is only a few weeks away on May 10th. Here’s a gift that I know she’ll treasure more than the traditional box of chocolates or bouquet of flowers. It’s called a Gratitude Letter. I’ve touched on the subject of gratitude in two previous posts. Today I’d like to expand on the idea of a Gratitude Letter, first developed by Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center. In his best selling book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment he gives the following instructions based on an exercise he does with his students:
Select one important person from your past [Your Mother] who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks. … Write a testimonial just long enough to cover one laminated page. Take your time composing this; my students and I found ourselves taking several weeks, composing on buses and as we feel asleep at night. Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person’s home.
It is important you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple “I just want to see you” will suffice.Wine and cheese do not matter, but bring a laminated version of your testimonial with you as a gift. When all settles down, read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression, and with eye contact. Then let the other person react unhurriedly. Reminisce together about the concrete events that make this person so important to you.
What’s crucial is that you write your Gratitude Letter from the heart and in detail. Here’s an excerpt from the Gratitude Letter I wrote to my mom four years ago on Mother’s Day:
First and perhaps most importantly, I am grateful for your conceiving and giving birth to me. Having been born and having had a chance to participate in this world has been a truly great adventure. Thank you for making that possible.
I am grateful for the tenderness and nurturing that you not only gave me as a “wee” child but which you still provide today. You created a loving home and gave me the security that allowed me to blossom. I am forever grateful for your ability to hold me gently while at the same time letting me go to explore and exercise my independence.
What’s wonderful about this exercise is that it’s a gift to you as well as your mom. Studies repeatedly show that practicing gratitude every day has a positive effect and promotes greater happiness.
Further resources on gratitude that you might enjoy:
- BBC News - The Happiness Formula
- IamThankful.com - dedicated to the practice of gratitude.
- wisdomquotes.com – gratitude quotes to inspire.
- The Original Gratitude Dance – from the GratiDudes.
Photo by Roger Do Minh