"Friday, October 27th, was one of the greatest nights of my life."
Not an untypical comment from observers and speakers from the University of Pennsylvania who attend the class of positive psychology professor and former president of the American Psychological Association (APA) Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD.
It is very difficult to be grateful and unhappy: Intuitively, we know this. Gratitude is one of the strongest emotions that sweep through you and is relatively straightforward to induce. It has been researched for many years by prominent psychologists like Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough who, together, have even gone so far as to develop a gratitude scale. Increasing gratitude has been proven to significantly improve the quality of one's life. Unfortunately, however, in many cultures, there is no mainstream vehicle for expressing gratitude to loved ones.
With the appreciation for understanding, Martin Seligman went about creating an exercise for his class designed to induce specifically the feeling of authentic gratitude. Together with his class, they came up with a name: Gratitude Night. The exercise goes as follows: students would bring a guest who had done something important in their lives, but whom they had never properly thanked. Each would prepare a testimonial and together they would bring their unsuspecting guest with them to class one evening for some wine and cheese. The following is an example of a letter a student wrote to his mother and subsequently read aloud to her,
'Mom, from when I was born to now, you have been impacting my life every day. When I was in high school, you came to every single sporting event that you possibly could, even if that meant you had to leave work early to catch the bus to get there. You were there. It didn't matter if I was playing down in Maple Valley during the playoffs, you were still there bundled in your blankets. Or if it was pouring rain in the middle of October, you were there in your raincoat. You pushed and pushed and pushed me to do well in school because you wanted me to go to college. I remember the day I was accepted to the University of Montana; we were both able to share that wonderful moment together. I know that if it was not for you, I would not have continued my education, and I thank you for that… Through the toughest of times and through the best of times, you have been there to support me, and I can’t honestly tell you what that means to me. All I can say is that I love you with all of my heart. You are such an amazing human being and an even better mother. Thank you for all the time and effort and hard work you have taken into making me the man that I am today. I love you with all my heart.'
The student’s mother described, “It was such an amazing feeling…I felt almost untouchable.” Amazingly, researchers have found that this feeling lasts so that even a month later, people who had experienced a gratitude night still felt happier than their peers in the control group. The student also described it as a defining moment as he cited it to be the third-most memorable experience of his college days behind only graduation and attending the national championships for football. Research has found that if you conduct a gratitude night visit, you feel a rush of happiness afterwards - in fact, it's one of the most pronounced spikes that have been found in any positive psychology intervention.
If you knew you could make a positive difference in someone's life — that you could create a memory for them that would last for years — and all it would take is a bit of your time, would you do it? Well, now you know it. Will you do it? We know it can be a little scary, but thousands of people have gone before you!
All you have to do now is press the button below and let Telos assist you in creating this beautiful experience for yourself. Don’t worry you are not committing to do anything right now, you are just picking a rough outline. We will send you a reminder on the day you select.
Step 1 | Select A Person
Close your eyes. Think of someone still alive who years ago did or said something that changed your life for the better (Do not confuse this with newfound romantic love or with the possibility of future gain.). Think of someone that you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face with next week. Have anyone in mind?
Step 2 | Write
Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. Write just enough to cover one page -- the letter should be concrete and about three hundred words. Be specific about what they did for you and how it affected your life. Let them know what you are doing now, and mention how often you remember what they did. Take your time composing this; students found themselves taking several weeks, writing in public places, and even composing it in their head as they fell asleep at night.
Step 3 | Invite
Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person's home. It is important you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple "I just want to see you" will suffice. If this is truly too much for you, perhaps try completing this exercise with the use of a handwritten letter.
Step 4 | Bring a Momento
Bring this letter with you as a gift, but don't show it. The words you say in that special moment will be captured in your writing, forging a lasting souvenir of an indelible experience that is sure to be treasured.
Step 5 | Preparation for tonight
Tonight is the night. Meet the person and when you feel the time is right, read your letter aloud to them. Although you are reading, take the time to look in their eyes, to pause for a moment, to let them take in what you are sharing. Once finished reading, give them the space to react unhurriedly.