GratiTIRED? I get it. This is why gratitude fatigue is real…. And, while the healthcare industry is starting to realize that gratitude is some of the best medicine, the correct dosage for each of us does vary.
But stay with me. We are in the home stretch of #gratitudegravy and this next practice is one of the best gratitude practices for boosting happiness.
Think of someone who is still alive who has changed your life for the better. Pick someone who has never been properly thanked. It could be a teacher, a parent, grandparent, an old friend, an old boss, anyone who had an extraordinary impact on your life.
Ok do you have someone in mind?
Now write in your gratitude journal for a few minutes about how this person helped you. Write specifically how they influenced you, encouraged you, believed in you, write what you admire about them and why whatever they did meant so much to you at that time of your life.
Call the person or arrange a visit and surprise them by reading what you wrote to them.
I know. I know. This can be a self-conscious gratitude practice. But consider how meaningful it would be if someone did this to you. How good would it make you feel to know that you had a lasting positive influence on someone’s life?
Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested several positive psychology interventions on over 400 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories.
When the group’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked, participants immediately had a huge increase in happiness scores. Not only did they get an immediate boost, the impact was greater than any other intervention they had tried and the benefits lasted over a month.
If that person is going to be at your Thanksgiving table - even more convenient! If not, plan a time within a week to complete this. Waiting usually just causes more anxiety and who wants to delay the good stuff?
There's a great story referenced in the book, Gratitude Works, about the former surgeon general, C. Everett Koop.
Early in his career, he performed a life-saving heart operation on a newborn infant in an emergency situation. He got the code blue alert, raced over to the hospital (from a different hospital), ran up 9 flights of stairs and saved this child's life within minutes of his arrival, barely even having time to take his usual surgical precautions.
25 years later, his secretary said that someone was in his office to see him. It was his former patient - now a 6ft tall young man. He said, "I just wanted to meet you and thank you for saving my life when I was just 55-minutes old."
Dr. Koop wasn't waiting around for 25-years expecting or feeling entitled to a thank you from this patient.
He was, however, extremely grateful, surprised and touched that he received one. How amazing to see his impact from helping a nearly lifeless infant grow into a strapping young man.
I can only imagine how meaningful that surprise was for BOTH of them.
Side bonus: the element of surprise is actually quite beneficial in amplifying our gratitude practice
Exactly a year ago, my dear friend and mentor, Emiliya, surprised me with a visit at a NYC coffee shop with my favorite podcaster, Jonathan Fields, of The Good Life Project podcast. I was absolutely stunned by the surprise and oh so grateful to get to have coffee with him! It's time for a proper thank you.... (but shhhh!)
When you are the recipient of something, you weren't expecting, and you take the time to not only recognize the gift, but also the surprise aspect of it, you activate areas of your brain associated with learning and memory.
So the gratitude sticks with you longer - just like those fluffy mashed potatoes you might be ready to dig into, tomorrow…
Surprise also reminds you that unexpected goodness can come at any time. Life isn’t quite as scripted as we imagine.
Need more motivation?
Watch this sweet Soul Pancake video in which they re-enact the Seligman “gratitude visit” study with several participants surprising their sibling, mom or an old friend. It’s pretty heartwarming!