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I recently attended the Purposeful Planning Institute’s Fusion and Rendezvous Conferences. Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis (author of several books including Thanks and Gratitude Works) gave a keynote on Why Gratitude is Counterintuitive. One aspect, which I’m going to delve deeper into in a longer piece, revolves around the economic impact gratitude can have for individuals and families. Gratitude actually can increase our will power and reduce spending for immediate gratification. For now, I would like to suggest a simple ritual that can help you establish a gratitude tradition in your family – The Gratitude Letter.
Think about someone in your past (or currently in your life) who had an impact on you that it took years for you to appreciate. For me one such individual was Gunnery Sgt. James Morton USMC (ret.). Gunny Morton guided and mentored me during five of my six years at the Marine Military Academy. He is the main reason I applied to and subsequently graduated from The Wharton School. I learned many important life lessons and principles from him. Regrettably he passed away years before I realized how important he was to me and before I could express my gratitude. Time for a Gratitude Letter!
I wrote (with pen and paper as I suggest you do) a letter to him recalling events (some a little colorful as he was a Marine!) that helped shape my view of the world and my role in that world. As I penned it, I could feel gratitude and appreciation welling up in me along with a desire to act in response to that sense of gratitude. This is not unexpected as scientific studies have shown that acting on a sense of gratitude actually increases feeling of gratitude. As Dr. Emmons also points out being grateful is actually more powerful than being thankful. Think for a minute on the difference between these two statements:
Thank you for what you did.
Thank you for what you did. I am grateful to you.
As with the other letter writing rituals I’ve described I suggest SAFELY burning the letter outdoors in an appropriate container such as a grill, fire pit or fireplace. As an alternative, you could save them to share with your family members at a future date. Another option is for everyone in the family to write a Gratitude Letter to be read at a family meeting or holiday gathering.
A final thought. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.