Seligman is widely considered the founder of the modern “positive psychology” movement, taking up the reins left by the likes of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.
What Seligman does is study mental health rather than mental illness, providing people suggestions on how to reach their potential.
Seligman and his colleagues have developed all kinds of tools to assist people, the one of which I want to consider being the “Gratitude Letter.” The exercise works like this:
- 1) Choose someone who has made a positive impact on your life but to whom you have not fully expressed your gratitude.
2) Take the time to write this person a one page letter that expresses your gratitude with concrete examples and memories. The more descriptive the letter, the better.
3) Having completed the letter, take it to the person and read it aloud to him or her.
If it’s too difficult to meet the person to read the letter aloud, do it over the phone, Zoom, or mail it. If that is impossible, read it to someone else. As humans, we can always come up with reasons NOT to do something like this.
Instead, I encourage you to consider the reasons for doing it.
Seligman says that every time this is done people are moved, usually to tears. And the positive effects of this act on the mental health of the people involved can be measured for months afterwards.
So take time to consider people in your life who have helped you. Maybe you could make a list of these benefactors and then carefully and mindfully choose one to be the recipient of your gratitude letter. Even in taking time to choose your person you are showing your appreciation for how they helped you.
In showing appreciation, you are also doing something kind for yourself.