The Power of Gratitude


Thank you.

Two simple words that speak volumes. Oftentimes, we take such expression for granted but what we don’t know is that there is empirical evidence that shows how a heartfelt, WRITTEN thank-you note can do wonders for our mental health.

Time Health contributor Jamie Ducharme wrote extensively about how “research has shown time and again that being grateful is good for your health, mood, and general wellbeing.” In his article “Why You Should Write More Thank You Notes” published on Time Magazine on August 31, he explained the power of a real thank-you note based on a research published by Psychological Science and authored by Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley. Volunteers were asked to send a letter of gratitude to a significant person in their life. Before sending the letters, the volunteers shared their expectations of how their letters will be received. The researchers then interviewed the recipients to gauge their reactions and juxtaposed them with the volunteers’ expectations.

The results were quite remarkable. Ducharme writes, “They (Researchers) found that writers consistently misjudged how their letters would land, overestimating awkwardness and underestimating the recipients’ reported mood and surprise at receiving the note.” Kumar, one of the authors, had this to say about their findings, “Writers think about things like, ‘Am I going to get the words just right and am I going to be articulate?’ But when you’re the recipient of something like a gratitude letter, you tend to evaluate things on the basis of warmth and prosocial intent. As long as somebody’s expression is sincere and warm and friendly, recipients are often going to have a very positive reaction to that.”

There was yet another thing that the researchers discovered. Consistent with related research on the power of gratitude, the researchers found out that both the writers and the recipients of the gratitude letters were in “general positive spirits” throughout the experience. This echoes what University of California professor of Psychology Robert Emmons writes about in his book “Gratitude Works!” “There is a magnetic appeal to gratitude, “Emmons writes. “It speaks to a need that’s deeply entrenched. It’s as if we need to give thanks and be thanked, just as it’s important to feel respected and connected socially.”

But here’s the challenge. Researchers underline the importance of SINCERE and HEARTFELT expression of gratitude. A quick, perfunctory greeting cannot quite cut it. Emmons, for example, suggests a ritual almost. This means “a morning meditation of what you’re thankful for, a bedtime counting of blessings, or a gratitude journal.” Kumar takes it a step further. He suggests “keeping cards on hand so you can compose a note whenever the mood strikes.” Kumar says, “Writing gratitude letters seems to come at little or no real cost. People were composing these really thoughtful messages in just a matter of minutes. The broader message is that people should express gratitude more often.”

So here’s an assignment for all of us. Why don’t we take the time to sit down and think of the people whom we never got to REALLY thank? The people who were there for us; the people who believed in us no matter what; the people who made us smile and laugh and see life with all its possibilities; and on the flipside, even the people who broke our hearts and made us stronger and a lot wiser in the process. Once that’s done, we should then get a pen and a piece of paper and start writing genuine letters of gratitude. As what the website so aptly writes, “It’s easy in these modern times to become too busy or distracted or become a tad too self-entitled. We disconnect from others and suffer the consequences such as loneliness or anger.” Let us spread warm and sincere gratitude feels all around. It’s good for everybody’s health.