Individual Leadership

Writing powerful gratitude letters

Written by Megan Davis

3 Min Read

If you haven’t thanked someone properly before, why not do it now with a gratitude letter? A brief thank you note for the birthday gift you received works just fine, but what about the person who truly impacted your life? Is there a professor or a mentor who believed in you and encouraged you to do what you hadn’t done before? A former boss who taught you how to be a strong employee? A friend who introduced you to a book that has stuck with you over the years? Or a friend who let you cry on their shoulder after a particularly devastating breakup?

Showing your appreciation for someone in a letter may feel a little strange at first (or some might even say an overblown thank you card), but that’s not true. Imagine how it would feel to receive an honest letter of appreciation from someone who believes you made a difference in his or her life?

With that being said, I can’t give you a template for writing a gratitude letter. You have to write from your heart, with your voice. I can, however, share some tips that will help you write a letter that really resonates with your recipient.

Set aside enough time. 

If you decide you’re going to write a gratitude letter, decide to do it the right way. Set aside enough time to map out what you want to say and to write the actual message. I’d say 30 minutes for planning and 30 minutes for writing. That’s just one hour (or 2.5 episodes of The Office on Netflix). You can do it.

Oh, and the time you set aside should be as free from distractions as possible.

Don’t worry about perfect grammar. 

That one was hard for me to write, but it’s true. When you’re explaining why you’re thankful for someone or something, being perfect isn’t important. Instead, focus on the emotion behind your message. No one will care cares if you have a missing comma or a run-on sentence.

Let go of any embarrassment.

Opening up and being honest, genuine, and truthful isn’t easy. But it’s also not something you should feel embarrassed about. If you find that you have those feelings, it’s time to step outside of your comfort zone. Start to get comfortable with sharing your thoughts and your feelings. Humans are perceptive, emotional creatures, after all.

Physically write out the letter.

Unless you absolutely have to email your note, you should write it out on a piece of paper. You don’t need to use fancy paper, a piece of notebook paper does the trick. Writing by hand fully engages your brain and keeps you more focused. And there’s something special about receiving an actual letter in the mail. (Of course, this does require having or acquiring the address of your recipient.)

Be specific about why you’re grateful.

In your letter, share exactly what the person did for you. Why are you so appreciative? How did they impact your life? What’s happened because of what they did for you? If it’s been a while since you’ve caught up with the person, update them a little on your life. You don’t have to write a biography, but share a few things!

Again, imagine how you’d feel to know how deeply your actions positively impacted someone else. Wouldn’t you want the details?

Letters may seem like an outmoded method of communication, but they are a gesture that doesn’t go unnoticed. I save all of the cards I get (dating all the way back to my high school graduation!) and I’d love to put some handwritten letters in that box as well.

And remember, it’s never too late or a bad time to show gratitude!

This article was originally posted on May 7, 2020.

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