Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Practitioner  

It’s no surprise that expressing our gratitude positively impacts others—after all, who doesn’t like to feel appreciated? But it’s also good for us. Amy Morin of Forbes reported that scientific studies have shown how gratitude improves psychological health, physical health, sleep, and self-esteem. It’s in our best interest to express gratitude.

Last month, I wrote my aunt a letter expressing appreciation for all the ways she has made a positive difference in my life. Although she’ll likely benefit from receiving my letter, I wrote it for my own benefit.

Here are 6 tips to consider when expressing gratitude:

1) Focus on one person. Concentrating on a single person, as I did with my aunt, allows you to personalize your message, which creates intimacy. If you try to focus on multiple people at once, you may lose this sense of intimacy, which can lessen the impact of your experience. If you do wish to express gratitude to a group of people, such as a family or a business, consider one family member or one employee who you can single out as someone who provided special support.

2) Choose your medium. How can you best convey your message? There are many ways to express gratitude: in writing, through art or music, by giving a gift or performing a service, and so on. You should choose the medium that feels right for you, not necessarily what you think the recipient would choose. I chose to write my aunt a letter because I’m a writer. You may decide to give a personalized gift or complete a task to show your appreciation.

3) Be specific. What are you actually grateful for? When you’re expressing gratitude, try to narrow it down and be as specific as possible. For example, here is a section from my letter to my aunt: As a young adult, I remember your nonjudgmental nature. I particularly recall speaking to you after my father died and I was having a hard time navigating my role as ‘the strong one’ in the family. I never told you, but you were the only one who I could talk to, the only one who I felt understood and accepted me. Thinking about and sharing specific examples can heighten our gratitude experience.

4) Avoid criticism. A common mistake when expressing gratitude is to unintentionally include a negative with the positives. For example, I could have added this line to my letter: I just wish you had been able to come to the funeral. It’s true that I would have been glad to have her there, and my intention in saying so wouldn’t be to express criticism, but that’s how it could come across to my aunt—and even to me. My experience of expressing gratitude to my aunt could be distracted by my focus on something she failed to do. Including criticism can lessen the benefits that we receive from expressing gratitude.

5) Take your time. This is not an experience that should be rushed. You need to experience your emotions fully and allow time for reflection. It took me two weeks to write and mail my letter. Take all the time that you need.

6) Don’t rely on a response. I haven’t heard back from my aunt since I mailed my letter. Some people might feel hurt by this, but her response was never my focus. Although she may have received some benefit from my letter, I wrote it for my own benefit. Someone’s negative response or lack of response should not negate what we gain from our experience of gratitude.

I experienced humility, resolution, and peace from my expression of gratitude. My closing remarks in the letter were: These might seem like small things, but to me, they mattered. Expressing gratitude may seem like a small gesture, but in the end, it could matter very much to you.

If you would like assistance expressing gratitude or improving your relationships, you may benefit from working with a counselor. Contact Symmetry Counseling today at 312-578-9990 to schedule an appointment.

Morin, A. (2014, November 23). 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round [Blog post] Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#7d5aeaa3183c