A year ago I posted for the first time in a long time from a hospital waiting room about how I decided to take on a personal gratitude project for the year. I had recently purchased a little gratitude set that came with 52 letters along with stickers to seal them. The idea was each week to write a letter to someone thanking them for being in my life and then put it in the mail with an international stamp. (I swapped about one of the sealing stickers for a Ravenclaw wax seal because I’m a nerd.)
My first letter was to my dad as he is the person that I most look up to in life. Then I sent them to family, friends, and even old acquaintances who I had not seen face-to-face in more than a decade. While it was not the primary intention, I received many touching responses in kind, and I also learned some lessons along the way.
Lessons on habits and planning:
I’m not sure that before this I had ever done a regular interval, year-long project. While writing one letter a week is not a huge time commitment, long-term consistency hasn’t traditionally been one of my strong suits. Aside from making sure I had enough addresses, I had to have systems in place to make sure that I remembered to write each week. But there were times when I slipped. One week turned into two, which turned into even five or six. At that point, even though it still wasn’t a huge task, the initiation energy would become too great and procrastination would sit in. I’d think, “I don’t have time to write six letters this morning,” and then not do anything. But I needed to remind myself that restarting is starting and it is best to start small. So instead of all six, just do one. Then maybe tomorrow another. There is a concept of Success Spirals, that doing one tiny thing can beget others. And I think not only did that idea of just getting back into it and writing one help finish that project, it laid the foundation for the projects I’m doing in 2020.
Lessons on gratitude:
Many daily gratitude processes talk about writing down or thinking about things for which you are grateful. There is a lot of merit behind this and many studies that show that it helps increase positive well-being. However, acts of gratitude where we express our thankfulness to other people in our lives can have a more profound effect. I encourage you to watch this video from SoulPancake where they did just that (it’s okay, I’ll wait):
Touching, right? Letter writing for me fell somewhere in between the two camps. Sometimes I had heartfelt responses of how much the letter meant to them that I felt like those calling their loved ones in the video. Other times I just sent it off, assumed it didn’t get lost in the mail, and imagined how they felt reading it. While establishing that dialog of gratitude is self replicating, there is merit to just producing feelings of gratitude within ourselves. Loving kindness, or Mettā, meditation preaches just that: you think about a friend, an associate, or even an enemy and wish them feelings like, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.” Those thoughts alone can have profound changes on our own physiology. So whether you express gratitude as a thought or an act, it seems you can’t go wrong.
My 52nd letter I wrote to my mom who passed away almost three years ago. While I know that she can’t receive it personally, I sent it to my dad to read at her grave. I am grateful for the time that I had with her and the lessons and love that she instilled in me and my sisters. I’m thankful that she knew I was thankful for her when she was still here, but it helps me to continue to express gratitude now that she is gone.
While I don’t have a set plan for continuing the personal gratitude project, it is a tradition that I want to keep doing at whatever pace. So please send me your postal addresses if you like, and even if you don’t hear anything, or don’t hear anything for a while, I’m grateful that I have you in my life.