The Unexpected Benefits of Giving Thanks

Photo by Morvanic Lee.

Years ago, I made intentional expressions of gratitude a central part of my efforts to claw my way out of depression and self-loathing.

It is a bit strange to think that thanking OTHER PEOPLE might help you feel better about yourself, but it was all a part of my practice of rewiring my brain away from those deep, dark spirals where the only thing that was real was how terrible and unlovable I was.

Thanking other people for things they did for me helped me focus on something more positive, and it also reminded me that other people cared about me at least enough to lend a hand. Whether it was giving me their cast iron pan when they moved across the country and couldn't justify moving the weight or helping me produce a play, I wasn't in it alone. If I was TRULY worthless, they wouldn't have invested their time or resources in me, right?

As a practice, I would send out my little thank you notes once a year. Around the new year, I would evaluate the past year, count up all the little wins and successes (again, reminding myself that good things could happen in my life, and so I wasn't total garbage), and then thank every single person I could think of who was involved in those happy memories.

There was a surprising bonus to this practice: it turns out that receiving expressions of gratitude like that made other people feel good too! It hadn't even occurred to me that it might make a difference in someone else's life to hear about how they had positively impacted mine (everyone else was just happy and self-sufficient and would be unaffected by my absence, right?), but in the weeks that followed I would receive responses from people about how meaningful it had been to them to receive my thank you notes.

It kind of blew my mind and it cheered me up even more.

It was almost ten years ago that I began this practice, and probably about six years ago that I let it fall away entirely. It was vital to my mental turnaround from self-hatred to actually liking myself, but since then I got caught up in the other hassles of life and forgot about it.

Well, now I'm going to get back on the wagon. I read a new study about the power of a thank you letter - how senders tend to underestimate its impact (often to the point of not even sending it) and just how touching it can be for the recipient. Pairing that knowledge with the purely selfish knowledge of how powerful that practice was for my own well-being, I want to get on it once more.

How have expressions of gratitude helped you, as a giver or receiver?

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