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Letters of Gratitude: How to Write a Message of Appreciation

Gratitude lettersGratitude is good for us, helping us maintain our mental, emotional, and even physical wellbeing (Brown, 2021).

And it’s no surprise. After all, many of our positive emotions–joy, hope, optimism, and contentment–have appreciation or gratitude in common. And together, they, and others, foster the right conditions for living the ‘good life’ (Seligman, 2011).

Most importantly, gratitude is not fixed. It is a practice we can learn and build upon, something that becomes an integral part of who we are and how we live.

In this article, we explore the value of sending messages of gratitude and introduce guidance and templates to help.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Gratitude Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients connect to more positive emotions and enjoy the benefits of gratitude.

What Are Gratitude Messages?

“[G]ratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted,” says Robert Emmons, professor of psychology and gratitude expert at the University of California (cited in Brown, 2021, p. 213).

With gratitude, we become greater participants in our lives, celebrating goodness rather than reacting to it. And what’s more, it’s not passive; it’s something we can invest in and grow, letting it positively impact our relationships and environment (Seligman, 2011; Brown, 2021).

As such, gratitude is a “way of doing, trying, failing, and trying again,” says author and research professor Brené Brown (Brown, 2021, p. 214). We can learn to be equally gracious to ourselves and others and accept that we are a work in progress, attempting to act with gratitude in our daily lives.

But how do you show your gratitude?

Strength expert Ryan Niemiec describes gratitude as when you “regularly experience and express thankfulness,” “don’t take the good things that happen in your life for granted,” and “tend to feel blessed in many circumstances” (Niemiec, 2019, p. 10).

For Professor Martin Seligman (2011), one of the founders of positive psychology, gratitude is enduring thankfulness, with messages of gratitude being expressed to someone that we appreciate as helping or positively influencing our lives and yet have never been properly thanked. It could be as simple as a text message or note given to a friend saying thanks for always being there or a colleague for helping you out of a tight spot.

How to Write a Gratitude Letter

Gratitude MessagesSeligman asked his students to write and deliver letters of gratitude personally as part of a class exercise.

Because of the many responses he received from the homework and a wealth of findings from controlled studies, he identified that “not only did the writer’s happiness scores go up, their scores on depression were lowered for at least a month following the exercise” (Tomasulo, 2020, p. 129).

While there are several activities surrounding gratitude, letter writing is one of the most commonly researched and validated. And while its positive effect on gratitude, happiness, and wellbeing are profound, it can be summarized by the following three steps (modified from Niemiec, 2018; Seligman, 2011):

  • Step one – take a moment to think about someone who has positively impacted your life (whether in the short or long term) that you appreciate, yet may not have thanked properly.
  • Step two – write that person a letter describing how you feel about what they have done for you and why you are grateful to them. Seligman describes it as follows, it “should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific” and mention how often you remember what they did (Seligman, 2011, p. 30).

Rather than a simple thank you for being there, it is best to create a narrative. It may help to reflect on the following questions (modified from Intelligent Change, n.d.):

How and when did you both meet?
What are your earliest memories of your relationship?
How was your life at the time?
What has that person done for you?
How did that make you feel then and now?
What do they mean to you?

  • Step three – while this may not always be an option-or at times the right thing to do-Seligman suggests you take time reading the letter and watch for the other person’s reactions and your own. And then, when finished, discuss the content with them (Seligman, 2011).

Niemiec (2018) points out that the three steps involve more than the strength, or process of, gratitude alone. Writing and sharing gratitude letters engages other character strengths, such as love, perspective, and social intelligence. And undoubtedly, delivering and reading your letter to that person requires bravery and zest.

Writing such a letter is almost always a valuable exercise, increasing gratitude and other positive emotions. However, we cannot guarantee the response the letter receives. There may be occasions when the activity should finish at step two due to safety issues or the risk of unwanted consequences (Niemiec, 2018).

A gratitude letter to a boss

Whether recently or in our earlier careers, we typically remember those bosses that supported us along our professional path or as we faced difficult times in our personal lives.

Treat the following example as a possible template for use in writing a gratitude letter to your boss (past or present). The details, thoughts, and emotions can be added to, removed, swapped around, or embellished upon as appropriate (modified from Hamadey, 2020).

Dear [first name]

I’ve been looking back on all stages of my career and thinking of people who made an impact. You are very high up on the list.

I loved working alongside you at [company name] and felt like your talent, experience, work ethic, and creative ideas lifted me up.

You gave me priceless advice that helped me progress through my career.

When my mother was taken ill, you gave me the time I needed to support my family and get back on my feet.

You continue to have my back and offer great advice, referrals, etc.

In short, your guidance and support helped me along my career path, and I’m grateful to you.

Kindest regards

[Your full name]

As you read through what you have written, consider the feelings that rise up inside you and how the recipient will feel reading your letter.

A gratitude letter to parents

We don’t always realize everything that our parents have done for us. As we get older, especially when we have children of our own, it can become clear how they deserve our gratitude.

Sending a letter to parents can be a great way of capturing our feelings and sharing our appreciation for them. More personal than the last example, reflect, reuse, and modify some of the following points to capture how you feel about them (modified from Psaila, 2020):

Thank you for:

  • Laughing with me through my joy
  • Crying with me through my pain
  • Taking my sadness and making it your own
  • Easing each and every burden
  • Sharing my tears with me
  • Your humor
  • Your beautiful way of living life
  • Having the absolute kindest heart
  • Teaching me what being a good person truly means
  • Loving me
  • Showing me what unconditional love truly means.

An example might be as follows (modified from MailToSelf, n.d.):

Dear Mum and Dad,

I have been meaning to write this letter for some time. I wanted to thank you for everything you have done for me. You gave me the best possible start in life, supporting me through school and college and helping me through some tough times since. You have always prioritized my needs and shared both tears and laughter.

Thank you for always supporting me and encouraging me to do my best in life. There will never be enough words to convey how much you both mean to me and how grateful I am for you both showing me what unconditional love truly means.

I love you so much, today, and forever.

Yours lovingly

[Your name]

A gratitude letter to a friend

Our close friends deserve our highest gratitude. They are there when we most need them and can be as close as family – and sometimes more so. While similar to family letters, they may seem more lighthearted and less formal – depending on how you relate to each person, for example (modified from Mayne, 2020):

Dear [friend’s first name]

Friends like you come along once in a lifetime.

I just want you to know how much I appreciate you and your friendship. Whenever I see something that makes me laugh, I want you to be the first to know. It’s wonderful to know that you care enough to stick by my side through the good times and the bad.

You will always be close to my heart!

Love,
[Your name]

The Impact of Sharing Appreciation Messages

Gratitude exercisesIn all its forms, showing gratitude and messages of appreciation should ultimately be unburdening, focusing on positive emotions, memories, and thoughts rather than any wrongdoings (Tomasulo, 2020).

Identifying and using the strength of gratitude, has important valuable associations with other mental and physical factors, including (modified from Niemiec, 2018, p. 12):

  • Life satisfaction
  • Optimism
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Increased cardiovascular and immune functioning
  • Longevity
  • Lower levels of anxiety and depression
  • Kindness and compassion

Gratitude–both as a strength and an emotion–can be boosted easily with practice. Indeed, gratitude letter writing is so beneficial because research has shown it promotes gratitude, encourages the appreciation of others in your life, and strengthens relationships (Niemiec, 2018).

Writing Gratitude Cards

While writing gratitude letters is an inherently valuable gratitude exercise for both the sender and the receiver, shorter notes (even electronic ones) and cards can be equally powerful. Signature strengths expert, Ryan Niemiec, suggests that you “share your appreciation on a post-it note that you put on someone’s desk as a surprise or send it in a spontaneous email” (Niemiec, 2018, p. 42).

Cards or notes sharing gratitude can be brief – they simply need to be honest and heartfelt. Indeed, it is not necessary to describe everything the person has done for us; it could just be a few sentences as a reminder of when their impact was the greatest and how it made us feel.

Also, while we should try to adopt timely appreciation, there is no statute of limitations on gratitude. A teacher will still be overjoyed to receive a note of thanks from a student from twenty years ago (Hamadey, 2020).

20 Inspiring Gratitude and Appreciation Statements

When someone has done so much for us, finding the right words to show our appreciation can be difficult.

The following statements may offer some helpful prompts (Bowlby, 2021; Shutterfly Community, 2022; Berries.com, 2022):

General

  • Thank you for being the reason I smile.
  • Thank you for being you.
  • Thank you for brightening my world.
  • You’ve always believed in me. Thank you!
  • Thank you for being an important part of my story.
  • I can’t even begin to explain how much your help means to me.

Friends

  • Thank you for making so many ordinary moments, extraordinary.
  • Thank you for always giving me the extra push I needed.
  • Your friendship is a special gift. Generously given, happily accepted, and deeply appreciated!
  • Where would I be without a friend like you?
  • You are a ray of sunshine to me and everyone else around. Thank you for brightening my day!

Particularly for parents

  • Thanks for never asking for reasons or explanations when all I wanted was a long hug and a few laughs.
  • Thank you for letting me grow my own wings, for letting me fly, for catching me when I fall, for letting me stand when I can’t, and for assuring me I can fly again.
  • Thank you for being my heart’s first home. I love you.
  • Thank you for always being there for me. Not just when I needed you, but for when I needed you most.

Boss or colleague

  • Thank you for having confidence in my abilities.
  • Thank you for being such an inspiration to me and others around you.
  • Thank you for leading by example.
  • I want to express my gratitude for everything you’ve helped me achieve here.
  • Thank you for always going above and beyond to ensure the success of a project.

Positive Psychology & Gratitude Letter Writing

Positive psychology recognizes the importance of relationships. In fact, make up the ‘R’ in Martin Seligman’s model of wellbeing, ‘PERMA’ – the others being positive emotions, engagement, meaningful living, and achievement or accomplishment (Seligman, 2011).

For relationships to be at their best, it is helpful to refocus positively–and with appreciation–on their past, present, and future, especially when going through a tough time. After all, while our relationships have the power to boost wellbeing and increase happiness, they are also “a major part of the cause for people to slip into depression” (Tomasulo, 2020, p. 128). Gratitude can help develop new relationships and maintain existing ones.

Not only that, in a 2005 study, Seligman compared writing gratitude letters with other positive psychological interventions and found they offered the greatest initial increase of happiness.

While gratitude may not cure mental illness, it is a vital, life-enhancing emotion and a practice that can enrich our lives in meaningful ways (Brown, 2021).

Gratitude Resources from PositivePsychology.com

We have many resources available to foster gratitude as an emotion and a strength by improving our skills at increasing and showing our appreciation for others:

Why not download our free Three Gratitude Exercises Pack and try out the powerful tools contained within, including:

  • Creating Savoring Rituals
    Consistently noticing and savoring small, everyday positive moments can significantly affect happiness, resilience, wellbeing, and overall life satisfaction:

    • Step one – identify everyday activities that bring pleasure
    • Step two – experience pleasure as it happens by aiming to savor two activities a day for two weeks.
    • Step three – reflect on how the savoring rituals went.
  • Experiencing Awe
    It is possible to learn to tap into ‘awe’–the emotion that arises in response to experiences that we perceive to be strikingly vast–and change the way we understand and remain grateful for the world:

    • Step 1: Recall a recent awe experience
    • Step 2: Describe the awe experience
    • (Optional) Step 3: Create an awe diary

Reliving awe moments allows us to re-experience some of the positivity they initially evoked in us. Taking a moment to document awe moments encourages us to savor and enjoy the experience for a little longer and store and recall the memory to re-enjoy positive emotions in the future.

Other free resources include:

  • Gratitude journal
    Use the Gratitude Journal to list people and events to be grateful for and reflect on the best part of each day.
  • Gratitude gifts
    A delightful drawing task for children to capture on paper things they are grateful for in their lives.

More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:

  • Replacing Non-Grateful Thoughts With Grateful Thoughts
    While gratitude is a basic human emotion, ungratefulness has been described as the solvent of social bonds and an assault on flourishing human life (Mikoski, 2011).

The following steps can help the client replace thoughts of ingratitude:

    • Step one – identify an ungrateful thought
    • Step two – formulate a grateful alternative
    • Step three – replace the ungrateful thought with the grateful one
    • Step four – translate the positive feelings that arise into action.
  • Daily Gratitude Check-In

Gratitude is the process of (1) acknowledging that one has achieved a positive outcome and (2) recognizing an external source contributed to this positive outcome (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

This brief ‘check-in’ helps the client connect to their feelings of gratitude. After all, gratitude is more than knowing what you are thankful for; it is also an experience.

A Take-Home Message

Gratitude is an emotion, strength, and practice, and it helps us appreciate the value of something. As such, it is something we can learn and build upon, ultimately becoming integral to who we are and our positive relationships with the people and world around us.

To experience gratitude, we must regularly experience and express thankfulness and not take the good things in our lives for granted.

Writing gratitude letters promotes enduring thankfulness, sharing appreciation with those that have positively influenced our lives and yet may have never been properly thanked. Such notes include our feelings towards the recipient, acknowledging what they have done and how they have supported us.

And yet gratitude can be kept brief. It is not necessary to describe everything the person has done, but serves as a reminder of when their impact was the greatest and how it made us feel. Also, while we should try to adopt timely appreciation, there is no statute of limitations on gratitude.

Gratitude letters can help develop new relationships, maintain existing ones, and increase happiness and wellbeing and are a valuable tool for the therapist working with a client or as a standalone practice for self-development.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Gratitude Exercises for free.

References

  • Berries.com. (2022). 85 ways to say thank you + printables for your message. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.berries.com/blog/ways-to-say-thank-you
  • Bowlby, K. (2021). 45 quotes that Perfectly Express How Thankful You Are. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.countryliving.com/life/g29536898/thankful-quotes/
  • Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the heart. London: Vermilion.
  • Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
  • Hamadey, G. (2020). How to write a gratitude letter-plus a sample letter of gratitude. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.ginahamadey.com/blog/howtowriteagratitudeletter
  • Intelligent Change. (n.d.). How to write a gratitude letter to a friend or a loved one. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.intelligentchange.com/blogs/read/how-to-write-a-gratitude-letter
  • MailToSelf.com (n.d.) Thank you letter to mom and dad. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.mailtoself.com/thank-you/thank-you-letter-to-mom-and-dad/
  • Mayne, D. (2020). Thank You Note Ideas for Friendship. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.thespruce.com/thank-you-note-samples-for-friendship-1216785
  • Mikoski, G.S. (2011). On gratitude. Theology Today, 67, 387-390.
  • Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for Practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe.
  • Niemiec, R. (2019). Strengths-based workbook for stress relief: A character strengths approach to finding calm in… the chaos of daily life. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.
  • Psaila, F. (2020). A thank you letter for my parents. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://thoughtcatalog.com/francesca-psaila/2020/04/a-thank-you-letter-for-my-parents/
  • Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and well-being and how to achieve them. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  • Shutterfly Community. (2022). The best thank you quotes and sayings for 2022: Shutterfly. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.shutterfly.com/ideas/thank-you-quotes/
  • Tomasulo, D. (2020). Learned hopefulness: The power of positivity to overcome depression. Oakland: New Harbinger.

Comments

What our readers think

  1. Dehonesst Sanm P

    Hi, this is Dehonest Sam P, I am grateful for this powerful and amazing message given above, I want to God bless you, increase your brain and grant you all your heart desire, what a awesome message. You are lifted up in Jesus name. We need more of it. Love youuuuuu

    Reply
  2. Jonathan

    To set me on me journey of gratitude, what better way than to thank you, Heather, for getting me started. It is greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  3. THYRON CONRAD

    Good Morning Everyone, but especially to the Author of this impressive Article, I just want to sat a million thanks, for this eye opener, Gratitude is so very important, and most of us take everything for granted, and worst, Never show gratitude or express GRATELNESS, TO OTHERS WHO PUT THEMSELVES OUT OF THE WAY TO GIVE US KINDNESS & CARE..in so many ways, yet, we don’t show or give back gratitude not even in a small way showing we recognize all the tremendous love and attention we get from other, THANK YOU.

    Reply
  4. Peddu Chandra

    Thanks a lot for such an wonderful information on gratitude. God bless you.

    Reply
  5. S. Marie

    Thank you for creating and sharing this wealth of information and encouragement. Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Nagy Tobia

    Thank you for sharing this amazing blog that was of great help to me and I decided to follow each word in it

    Reply
  7. Nausheen

    Thank you for such a well written article. Shared it on linked in and with my friends.
    Excellent practical tips to follow as well

    Reply
  8. Chris

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Samir

    Wow, this article is just so complete and powerful. There’s gratitude for a lifetime here!
    Loved it

    Reply
  10. marc

    Thank you with all my heart

    Reply

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