Upon turning 50, the author, Nancy Davis Kho, decides to write 50 letters of gratitude during the year. Why? Well, for one thing practicing thankfulness is good for you. Here are some of the benefits studies have shown:
- Gratitude “rewires” the brain to reward us for the positive perceptions we have of those around us; this begets more gratitude and a feeling of “elevation” that makes us want to become morally better ourselves!
- Negative emotions like fear or anger trigger increased heart rate, accelerated breathing and muscle tension == positive emotions like gratitude help us relax, feel safe and connected with others
- There are many physical health benefits — better sleep, more energy, improved control of asthma
She also felt that the age of 50 (half-way or more through life), was a good time to look back and reflect on those who helped to mold you into the person you have become.
Nancy boils her letter-writing project down to three steps: see, say, savor. See the people, places and things that have made your life meaningful. Say something to acknowledge that impact. Keep copies of all the letters to write so that you can reread them and savor the generosity that supports and surrounds you.
She suggests making a list of those you want to write to, and of course that list will include family, friends, and probably mentors– people you love and admire. However, she has a thought-provoking idea — you may want to include people who have taught you hard lessons — the difficult relative, the ex-boyfriend, the unreasonable boss. Even those people have taught you something you needed to know. Even those people may call up some good memories, or have some good qualities to commemorate. You may even choose to write a letter to certain places, passions or hobbies that have influenced you over the years!
Another point — you do not need to mail the letters, or at least all the letters. There may be people you wish to thank who have died, or that you cannot locate. It may seem inappropriate to contact some. The personal benefits of acknowledging your gratitude will still accrue.
The book guides the reader through writing the letters. For example, it is suggested that you begin with a brief explanation of why you are writing, so the person doesn’t feel “weirded out” or stalked by the letter. Write to older people first — we never know how much time is left to express our thanks to them. Also, keep the letters about the same length (Nancy chose one page) so that you don’t go overboard with a thousand “do you remember the time” examples. When writing to several people in the same family –for example your siblings, or your children, you may want to send them all at the same time to avoid the appearance of favoritism. Some of Nancy’s letters are included as well.
I don’t know if this qualifies as a Christian book, but the author is a Christian (Episcopalian) as one of the letters she writes is to her minister. Gratitude is certainly a Christian quality, and one we should all cultivate. How about writing a thank you letter to Jesus? Anyway, I liked the idea and may try it. What about you, dear reader? If you decide to embark on a thank-you project, let the Lutheran Ladies know how it goes.
For more on gratitude see these posts:
Giving Thanks for God’s Mercy
Are You Giving Thanks for the Right Things?