The Gratitude Visit

Practice of the Week
The Gratitude Visit:
How to Open Your Heart

Category: Occasional. These are practices suggested for "every once in a while." Some of them are responses to a particular need that may arise; others are simply enriching occasional enhancements to the spiritual life. All of them are worth a try at least once. And any of them might become a regular and central part of your spiritual practice.

A story:
Once upon a time, there was a very depressed teenage boy named Roy. Roy hardly spoke to anyone. He spent his days at school feeling overwhelmed and depressed. He even seriously thought of ways of committing suicide. Luckily, Roy had an English teacher named Mr. Downing. Mr. Downing had a big heart, and he could see that Roy was in trouble. One day Mr. Downing asked Roy to stay after class and join him for lunch. Hesitantly, Roy accepted. During the lunch, Mr. Downing asked Roy a lot of questions, like what was troubling him, and how he might be of help. He told Roy that he thought he was a very smart and special kid, and gave him a lot of encouragement. Because of his talke with Mr. Downing, Roy put off his plans to kill himself. Eventually Roy graduated from Jr. High and never thanked Mr. Downing -- for twenty-five years. By then, Roy had become a successful and happy person, and he wrote Mr. Downing a detailed letter reminding him of what he did for Roy as a teenager, and how his act of kindness changed, and even saved, Roy's life. Roy tracked down Mr. Downing's phone number, called him up and asked if he could visit. Roy went to Mr. Downing's home, shared some more about who he was, and read aloud the letter he had written. As Roy finished the letter, both men were teary eyed. Mr. Downing Roy that the letter was one of the best gifts he'd ever received. For several days, the encounter left Roy with a warm glow.
What is called "Positive Psychology" represents psychology's shift from focus on the ill to helping normal people live more fulfilled and happy lives. Dr. Marty Seligman has tested various techniques to see if they can increase a person's level of happiness over a long period of time. He's found some techniques that work, and some that don't. For example, he's shown that, unless one is quite poor, more money has almost no effect on one's level of happiness. Beauty, youth, and intelligence also fail to lead to happiness. Seligman also found some things that do work, and one of the of the most powerful is the Gratitude Visit. It's a way of thanking someone who has affected your life in a positive way.
"The Gratitude Visit involves three basic steps: First, think of someone who has done something important and wonderful for you, yet who has not been properly thanked. Next, reflect on the benefits you received from this person, and write a letter expressing your gratitude for all he or she did for you. Finally, arrange to deliver the letter personally, and spend some time with this person talking about what you wrote." (Marty Seligman)
No one knows why the Gratitude Visit has such a dramatic effect in lifting the spirit. Research shows that it not only lifts your level of happiness that day, but its effect lasts a full month with no negative side effects. That's powerful medicine. If only anti-depressants were that effective!

To whom would you want to write a letter? What would you want to tell this person? Even just contemplating such a letter and/or visit may be of help. First think of anyone who you'd like to thank for affecting your life in a positive way -- a coach, a minister, a parent, a friend, or even an employer. It's best if the person you choose is someone you could potentially meet face to face sometime in the next month.

Second, when you begin your letter, simply say why you're writing and what she or he did for which you are grateful. Give details about his her or his kindness or help has affected your life in various ways. Then, if possible, do whatever it takes to arrange a face-to-face meeting. That may not be easy, but it's a hundred times better than a phone call -- and please don't even think about email.

When contacting the person to whom you've written, it's best if you can be a bit vague about why you're wanting to get together. The Gratitude Visit is even more fun when it's a surprise to the person receiving it. When you're face to face with your recipient, say that you have an important letter to read to them. Make sure they're not distracted with other things, and when the time is right, read the letter slowly and with feeling. Savor the experience for awhile, and if it feels right, then feel free to talk about what you wrote. I don't know if this experience sounds like much to you, but the reality of it can be very heart opening and powerful.

The Gratitude Visit is a dramatic way to show someone you care, but you're also welcome to express gratitude to people in smaller ways. For instance, you can write a not to a waitress saying you appreciate her great service. You can send an email to a friend briefly stating how he or she has positively affected your life. You can write a little love not to your mate expressing your gratitude for something nice that was done for you. All these little notes of gratitude help to bring the spirit of appreciation and thankfulness into your daily life, and that always feels good.

At the beginning, you may feel some resistance to doing something like this. My bet is that if you start this letter of gratitude, you'll soon find yourself enjoying the process. Then, if you can, arrange to meet with this person sometime in the next month or so, and read your letter directly to them. You'll be glad you did, Take not if this exercise givesyou a bit of a lift in life. If you're like most people, you'll be surprised to find that it does indeed have a noticeable effect.

Also on the web about Gratitude Visits: HERE, and HERE. For a "Virtual Gratitude Visit" see HERE.

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See also Practices of the Week, "Be Grateful" and "Be Grateful to Everyone"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

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