Psychologically Speaking: A letter of gratitude

Sometimes, we are offered the opportunity to express our appreciation to someone who has played a role in our life or in the lives of our loved ones.

letters 88 (photo credit: )
letters 88
(photo credit: )
Last summer, while we were walking in the park, two college-aged kids approached us. The first offered some cookies but when we smiled and politely declined, the other said, "Okay, but if you won't take the cookies, will you please take this card." Handing me the card, he smiled at me, said, "Thanks, have a great day" and started to walk away. I went back for another card. What did the card say, why did I go back and why does my entire family remember this almost a year later? Recently, I was in contact with someone I had known in his role as one of the chief investigators of a major plane crash. After the crash, in addition to my hands-on work with many of the families, community members and search-and-rescue people, I left him several messages just to let him know I was thinking of him and was around if he needed to talk. Ten years later, having completely forgotten all about it, he reminded me of these calls and how, while he never had the time to talk back then, just hearing my voice on the other end sustained him tremendously at such a difficult time. I was absolutely stunned. Think of two people in your life who have really made an impact and helped shape who you are today. What is it about these people that make them so special? Is it that they were always there for you, have given you support, that they listened when it really mattered? Have they in some way given you guidance or helped you in fulfilling a lifelong dream? Did they believe in you at a time when you weren't so sure that you believed in yourself? Shift gears for a moment and ask yourself what you said or did when someone you knew well died. Did you visit the family or, if they didn't live close by, did you write them a letter offering your condolences? Did you ever tell the family just how special that person was in your life and why? Sometimes, we are offered the opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to someone who has in some way played a role in our life or in the lives of our loved ones. Sometimes we too are blessed with the opportunity to hear how something we have done for someone else has in some small way changed their life. This may be as seemingly insignificant as making a phone call, lending someone a few shekels, smiling, saying "hi" or saying "yes" when you really would rather be saying "no." We have all heard the wonderful stories of how caring and believing in someone gave them the strength they needed to make a life-altering decision, whether it be to stay with something or someone and in the extreme to not take their own life. Sometimes we don't know the impact of one small act of kindness for many, many years, and perhaps we never will know. A few months ago, I decided to write letters of gratitude to two people who really were selflessly there for me during my college years and beyond. My thought was that one person, a psychiatrist uncle of mine, was so important to me that I needed for him to know this now and not mourn a lost opportunity some day in the future. Having a day-to-day existence where I work with people who have lost loved ones in a sudden plane crash, murder or by sudden illness, I have learned to tell my loved ones in every phone call that I love them. Telling someone you love them is so much harder than thinking it. My entire family has learned to do the same because even if one assumes that those you care about know it, don't we all enjoy hearing it from others? If you are a person who likes to clear your clutter and leave no unfinished business, you may just want to think about taking pen in hand and writing a letter to that special someone who has had an influence in your life. There is no time like the present. Here are a few things to think about when getting started: Think of someone who holds a very special place in your heart and makes you smile or feel good when you think about them. Ask yourself what makes this person special and why? Where and in what way were they there during a difficult or good period in your life? Was it a one time occurrence or were they regularly there for you? What did this person do? What made them unique? When you think of them now what did you appreciate the most? What would you like them to know? How did they affect you? What might they not even realize about the impact it had on you? Whether by e-mail or snail mail, just sit down and start. "Dear X, I was thinking of you the other day and the special role you had in my life. Did I ever tell you how much I appreciated...?" Put your own personal flair to the letter. Put it away for a day but then make sure that you reread it, make whatever changes you need to and send it. You'll not only make them feel good but you may discover that you feel incredibly good afterwards as well. When one gives something, they always get back far more than they may have thought possible. Oh and what did the card say? "Smile. Someone reached out to you with an anonymous act of kindness. Now it's your chance to do the same." The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.