“A letter is always better than a phone call. People write things in letters they would never say in person. They permit themselves to write down feelings and observations using emotional syntax far more intimate and powerful than speech will allow.” | Alice Steinbach
Last night I stumbled across a powerful video. It begins with a researcher asking participants to write a letter of gratitude to a person who has greatly influenced them. Simple, right?
So they thought.
After the participants have fired off their letters, the researcher asks them to pick up the phone and call the person they’ve written about in order to read the letter aloud to the intended recipient. The immediate rise in anxiety is almost palpable. As each person lifts the receiver, you begin to see the walls of their everyday selves crumble. In this moment of unusually vulnerable truth-telling, viewers witness a transformation as each letter writer becomes a truer version of themselves. It quickly becomes apparent that this is a lesson in something much greater than letter writing; it’s a practice in expressing a deeper sense of gratitude most of us feel, but few of make a habit of regularly vocalizing to the people in our lives.
The video concludes with research findings. Participants who wrote letters, but were unable to call the recipient to share, experienced a small bump in happiness in the time between arriving at the lab and when they left. Participants who wrote a letter and made the phone call experienced a much bigger bump in happiness. Interestingly, the person who experienced the greatest bump was also the person who reported the lowest happiness score upon arrival at the lab.
The study got me thinking about relationships in general. What would happen if we made verbalizing gratitude a regular practice in our lives? How would our relationships with the people we love and the world around us begin to change? What would happen if companies put as much focus on expressing regular gratitude toward their employees and customers as they do on ROI and bottom lines?
We’d all be happier, apparently. You can’t argue with science.
Today I’m issuing a challenge to each of you reading this. (And I’m challenging myself to do the same.) In the words of wonderful Sara Bareilles, “Show me how big your brave is.” Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be fearful. Be brave. Be happy. Be grateful.
Take a little time out to write a letter of gratitude to someone in your life today. Then pick up the phone. (And when you’re done be sure to loop back around and leave a comment below telling us how it went.)