A simple, written expression of gratitude can improve well-being for both the writer and the recipient. But people are often hesitant to write and send a letter of thanks or gratitude because they underestimate its positive impact on the recipient and overestimate how awkward a recipient might feel, according to University of Chicago researchers. Letter writers may also lack confidence in their ability to sincerely articulate their gratitude and fear their gesture might be misinterpreted.
In a series of experiments published in Psychological Science, the researchers tested the accuracy of letter writers’ predictions. They asked several groups of people to write and send letters of gratitude and predict how surprised the recipients would be upon receiving the correspondence. The researchers then surveyed the recipients to gauge their reactions after reading the letters.
Most recipients were pleasantly surprised to receive the letters—and the senders reported that writing a gratitude letter was a positive experience. In fact, the senders regretted not reaching out to express gratitude to others more often.
Evidence has shown that positive social engagement can improve well-being, whereas lack of social support can have the opposite effect. As the study showed, a small letter-writing investment can reap significant returns.
What you should do
This holiday season, spread some good cheer by putting aside any reluctance to compose a thoughtful thank-you note or a short letter of appreciation to a friend or a loved one. Expect the act of gratitude to be a positive experience for both you and the recipient.
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see The Benefits of Gratitude.