To many of my friends and family, my husband Doug is known as Mr. Happy.
He has a degree from University of Pennsylvania in Applied Positive Psychology.
He has fun finding new ways to apply the principles of positive psychology in his consulting work and even in our family.
Since it’s November, the month we celebrate gratitude, it’s the perfect time to share an experience I had with a positive psychology “intervention” called The Gratitude Letter.
Basically, you choose someone who has made a positive difference in your life and you write him or her a letter explaining a specific thing they did that made a difference and how it affected you. Then, you visit that person, read them the letter, and give them the letter before you leave.
I chose to write my letter to my brother, Kelly, who had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and given only weeks to live.
I confess it was a little awkward. I explained the rules of the game and made him sit quietly and listen to me while I read the letter aloud to him.
Let’s just say sitting quietly and listening wasn’t his greatest strength in life… but he did it. He gave me a few minutes of his complete, undivided attention.
In the letter, I wrote about our mutual dislike for each other as teenagers. My mother said that during those years, “the tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife.”
I remember that tension well. So did he.
After high school graduation, he went off for a job in Wyoming and I went off to college.
One day, I went to the mailbox in my college dorm and found a letter from him.
I stared at the envelope for the longest time trying to imagine what he would write in a letter to me.
I took it to my room, opened it carefully with equal doses of curiosity and wariness.
I was shocked to read a very kind, warm letter from him. He said he loved me and missed me. He asked me how I liked college. He told me about his job, his life, his friends.
Did you catch that part where he said he loved me and missed me?
I just sat on my bed and cried. I couldn’t believe that after all those years of barely speaking to each other, he took the time to write me a letter and to tell me he loved and missed me.
The next time we were both home for the weekend, he drove me to Terry’s Drive-in on Main Street of our hometown and bought me a Coke, took me for a ride, and wanted to know everything about my life.
That letter and the Coke run to Terry’s changed everything between us. It was like all the years of anger just slipped gently away and we became best friends like we were before junior high and high school transformed us into uptight angsty teenagers.
I told him I was grateful he had the courage to write me that letter and for all the healing that took place after that.
He smiled and said he had forgotten about writing me the letter. He couldn’t remember what initiated the change in our relationship.
To me, it was crystal clear. He initiated the change and I was forever grateful.
He said, “If you had a tear reading the letter, I can only imagine the tears I had writing it.”
It was a sweet moment and I was glad I did it.
I’m especially glad now since he died a few days later.
In this month of Thanksgiving, who could you thank?
Give it some thought and make it a goal to write, deliver and read a gratitude letter to someone who made a difference in your life.
It might surprise you what a difference it will make in your life now.
I’d love to know how it goes…