Expressing appreciation for someone in your life can change your whole outlook. That’s right. Simply telling someone else how much you appreciate them will improve how you feel.
Jeffrey Froh, professor at Hofstra University, did this cool study in which he and his colleagues tracked students in eleven different classrooms, and divided them into three groups. For just a few minutes each day they were asked to:
- Group 1. write down things they were grateful for at home and school
- Group 2. write down things they found to be a hassle and not fun
- Group 3. a control group they asked nothing of
Here are a few things Group 1 wrote down:
- “My coach helped me out at baseball practice,”
- “My grandma is in good health, my family is still together, my family still loves each other, my brothers are healthy, and we have fun everyday,”
- “I am glad that my mom didn’t go crazy when I accidentally broke the patio table.”
After two weeks, the researchers measured their school performance and engagement from both the student’s perspective and the perspective of their teachers. Essentially, they found these students to be happier (by their own account), having more friends, and more engaged in their school work (by the teachers account), and…wait for it… they got better grades – better in comparison to their own previous performance. That’s after only two weeks. The researchers checked in three weeks later after the study was over and found the effects to be still present.
It gets even more powerful when you share your appreciation with someone directly and personally. In a powerful follow up study, students were asked to write a letter to a someone in their life whom they feel they may have never properly thanked. It could be a teacher, a coach, or a family friend.
The kids worked on their letters three times a week, for two weeks. They were asked to elaborate on their feelings, and to be increasingly specific in their writing about what the benefactor did that they were grateful for.
On the friday of the second week, the kids set up a meeting with the person to read the letter, out loud, to that person face-to-face.
According to Jeffrey Froh, “It was a hyperemotional exercise for them. Really, it was such an intense experience. Every time I reread those letters, I get choked up.” The positive outlook, and heightened engagement was still present when the researchers checked in with the kids 2 months later.
Maybe you can’t easily get your kids to write a letter of gratitude to someone in their life? Here’s a small and simple trick I learned from Dr. Karen Reivich, author of The Optimistic Child. Simply finish these sentences:
- Someone who helped me get through a difficult time is _______
- Someone who helped me learn something important about myself is _______
- Someone with whom I can discuss the things that matter most to me is _______
If you can’t get your kids to write letters of appreciation, you can. Model the way. Pick someone in your life and send them a note of appreciation. Be specific. Or even better, pick up the phone or track them down in person and share your message. You will not only make their day, you will feel better yourself.
Shawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive awesome results.