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I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me

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Action 5

Thank the people you're grateful to

Gratitude does more than make us feel good, it does us good. What's more it's good for other people too. So thanking the people we're grateful to increases happiness all round.

Why do it?

One of the ways gratitude does us good is by helping us to build our relationships with other people, which makes them and us happier. Science shows that gratitude increases how willing we are to help and forgive others, which helps us all get along.

Gratitude also helps us feel valued which is a basic human need. We all have it. But sometimes we don't realise that we've had a positive impact on someone else, so it feels good to know. What's more this has a knock-on effect. If we know that others have valued what we've done, we are more likely to do it again, so other people benefit.

But it isn't always that easy. Day-to-day most of us usually remember to say thank you to people who do little things we are grateful for, yet we often don't this for the people who have had the biggest impact on our lives. Sometimes we only think about doing this when it's too late and they're no longer around to hear. This is a wasted happiness opportunity.

Scientific research has shown that actually thanking the people we're most grateful to, and explaining why we're grateful to them, is one of the most powerful ways of enhancing our happiness. In tests, people who wrote a letter of gratitude to just one person and shared it with them, experienced a big immediate increase in positive feelings and were happier and less depressed for up to one month after doing it. So why not give it a go?

Where to start
  1. Think of people you're really grateful to - people who've had a particularly positive influence or impact on your life or who have been really kind. For example, they could be your parents or other family members, friends, teachers, work colleagues, teammates or neighbours. Note their names down. It's important that you feel genuinely grateful to them.
  2. Pick one person to write to, perhaps someone that you've never thanked properly before. Ideally someone you could meet for a face-to-face meeting in the next week.
  3. Write a letter to them. Be specific and clear about what they did for you and how it affected your life then and now. If you haven't seen them in a while, let the person know what you're doing and explain how what they did contributed to the person you are today.
  4. Arrange to meet. To get the maximum from this action arrange a face-to-face meeting so that you can read the letter to of the person yourself. This isn't always easy but it's likely you'll will be pleased you did it. Get in touch and arrange a good time to get together this week. Be vague about the purpose of meeting up, this action is more fun when it's a surprise! Try to do this straight after you have written your letter.
  5. Read your letter to them. Get comfortable. Tell them you have a surprise. Ask them to just sit and listen while you read. Take your time. After you've read the whole letter, take a moment to notice their reactions and how you are feeling. Then together you can discuss what you've read, why you felt it important to do and how it has made them feel.
  6. Reflect. After the visit, take a moment to think about how you felt as you wrote your letter? How were you affected by the other person's reaction? How you are feeling after the meeting? Now think who else on your list you'd like to tell that you are grateful…
References

[1] Emmons, R.A., & Mishra, A. (2010, in press). Why gratitude enhances well-being: what we know what we need to know. In Sheldon, K., Kashdan, T., & Steger, M.F. (Eds.) Designing the future of positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward. New York:Oxford University Press.

[2] Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness.London: Penguin Books

[3] Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.

[4] Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being.New York: Free Press

Where to start
Write a letter of gratitude to someone who really matters.
  1. Think of three people you're really grateful to. These should be people who've had a particularly positive influence or impact on your life. They could be your parents or other family members, friends, teachers, work colleagues, teammates or neighbours. Note their names down. It's important that you feel genuinely grateful to them.
  2. Pick one person to reach out to, perhaps someone you've have never thanked. Ideally it should be someone you could meet for a face-to-face meeting in the next week.
  3. Write a letter to them telling them how grateful you are. Be specific and clear about what they did for you and how it affected your life then and now. If you haven't seen them in a while, let them know what you're doing these days and how what they did has contributed to who you are today.
  4. Arrange to meet. To get the maximum from this action, arrange a face-to-face meeting so that you can read the letter to of the person yourself. This isn't always easy but it's likely you'll will be pleased you did it. Get in touch to get together this week. Be vague about the purpose of meeting up, this action is more fun when it's a surprise! Try to do this straight after you've written your letter.
  5. Read your letter to them. Get comfortable. Tell them you have a surprise. Ask them to just sit and listen while you read. Take your time. After you've read the whole letter, take a moment to notice their reactions and how you're feeling. Then together you can discuss what you've read, and why you felt it important to do and how it has made them feel.
  6. Reflect. After the visit, take a moment to think about how you felt as you wrote your letter? How were you affected by the other person's reaction? How you are feeling after the meeting? Now think who else on your list you'd like to tell that you are grateful…

Resources

  • A Practical Guide to Getting The Life You Want

  • Pack of practical day-to-day actions you can take to boost happiness

  • Discover the Groundbreaking Science to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive

  • Discover the power of the 3-to-1 Ratio with Dr. Barbara Fredrickson

  • A thank you note a day

  • How learning to be grateful and thankful can make you significantly happier

  • Send a unique thank you message to someone you care about

Being grateful

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom"

Marcel Proust

Thank You

Positive Emotions

"I've been able to show that fear closes down our minds and our hearts, whereas positive emotions literally open our minds and hearts... they really change our mindsets and our biochemistry"

Barbara Fredrickson

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina

click to view

Positive emotions make us more resilient

Our emotions affect our long term well-being. Research shows that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve things.