Psychology Exercises
Gratitude Night

Gratitude Night

The most memorable exercise of Harvard, Stanford and University of Pennsylvania is waiting for you here in the gratitude Night Challenge.

"Friday, October 27th, was one of the greatest nights of my life."

A typical comment from observers and speakers at the University of Pennsylvania who attended 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. In fact, gratitude is one of the strongest emotions that sweep through us and is relatively straightforward to induce. It has been researched for many years by prominent psychologists like Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough and increasing gratitude has been proven to significantly improve the quality of one's life. Unfortunately, however, in many cultures (and with the rise of social media) there is no mainstream vehicle for expressing gratitude to those close to you in a way that induces gratitude.

With this knowledge, Martin Seligman went about creating an exercise for his class designed to specifically induce 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, to class one evening for some wine and cheese. Each student would prepare a letter of gratitude and bring their unsuspecting guest with them to read their letter aloud to the person. 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 experience 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.

Accept the challenge and use Telos to go through the steps as you set up your own gratitude night with someone close to you. For the coming week, plan in the steps for each day you want to complete them and get ready for a memorable night! Below are a few ideas to get you started with your gratitude letter.

A few ideas:

  • How someone has influenced your life positively
  • What someone has done for you
  • A time when someone’s support has helped you
  • Something someone has said that made an impression on you
  • The importance of that person in your life
  • Share your support and encouragement for them
  • Highlight their strengths and your appreciation for them