A gift better than gratitude

It's safe to say that every major religion and school of philosophical thought has in some way or other recommended the practice of gratitude.

Saying grace before a meal and the annual, National Thanksgiving holiday in North America are just two examples from Christianity. In Islam, too, the importance of appreciation is frequently referred to and the prophet Mohammed is quoted in the Koran as stating that "gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue".

But more recently, the science of Positive Psychology has investigated the construct of gratitude in isolation from, or separate to the major religions. Most notably, Professor Robert Emmons from the University of California has dedicated several decades of his life to this work and not surprisingly, has found that those who engage in practices such as keeping gratitude journals are ultimately happier, healthier, achieve more personal goals and they feel better about their lives overall; further, and interestingly, they're also more likely to help others.

But none of this is likely to be of much surprise to any of you reading this. Although gratitude journals have been recommended as part of psychological therapy for some time now, in recent years they've made their way into the mainstream to such an extent that they've been spoken about by Oprah!

At the same time, however, there's an aspect of gratitude that not as many are quite as aware of. You may well know that you'll benefit if you feel grateful; but did you know you'd gain just as much if not more if you expressed gratitude?

William Arthur Ward, the prolific American writer and poet, has been quoted as saying that "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."

This quote brilliantly and beautifully sums up the lesser known and, dare I say it, less appreciated aspect of gratitude. But it's something I very much encourage you to get to know better and to help with this, I offer you today a "classic" example of how we can express our gratitude and in doing so, give a most profound gift to others (and to ourselves).  

That to which I'm referring is known as the "gratitude visit" and in very simple terms, it goes like this…

  • Think of someone who has had a positive impact on your life.
  • Call or email that person and organise to meet up with them.
  • In the intervening days or weeks, write the person a letter outlining what they did for you, the impact it had, and why you're grateful.
  • When you meet with them, at an appropriate time, read them the letter!

I can honestly say that I've recommended this activity to hundreds of people and in every single case (including when I completed it myself) it had a profoundly positive effect on both people involved.

Writing the letter is important as it provides an opportunity to organise our thoughts and ultimately, to say what we want to say as eloquently as possible. It can also be a lovely memento to leave with your friend or acquaintance.

Too often we leave it too late to say thanks to those who're close to us or who've helped in some way; don't … do it now for everyone's sake!

Have you paid someone a gratitude visit? If so, what was it like? I'd love to read about your experiences below in the comments' section.  

By Dr. Tim Shark


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