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The Gratitude Exercise

Gratitude has many positive effects that last far beyond the moment when you say, ‘thank you.’ According to research done by Harvard University:

  • Expressing gratitude has been linked with a greater sense of happiness and optimism

  • Studies have shown that people who felt these results of gratitude tended to exercise more and had less visits to their physician

  • People who regularly express gratitude have improved relationships with others and are more comfortable expressing concerns within their respective relationships

  • Saying ‘thank you’ to employees has shown that those employees who heard the message of gratitude worked harder

  • Empathy is essential to the development of gratitude (empathy - when we work to see the world from another person's perspective)

  • People with reduced empathy have difficulty experiencing the positive effects of gratitude

  • Gratitude cultivated through empathy reduces the negative effects of stress and trauma

  • Both empathy and gratitude can be increased with practice because experiencing empathy and cultivating gratitude forms a positively reinforcing cycle

We wanted to share this gratitude exercise with you because of the obvious, positive ripple effects that take place when expressing gratitude. Please don’t think it requires verbal grandstanding. Gratitude is as simple as acknowledging and focusing on our privileges and blessings.

Gratitude Exercise Instructions


Pen, paper, envelope and stamp (optional)

  1. Watch this video on the science of gratitude.

  2. Take a few minutes to discuss. Here are a few questions to help with the discussion:

    • What are your key take-aways from the video?

    • Have you observed the positive effects of gratitude in your own life?

    • Was there anything you heard that confused you or that you do not agree with?

  3. Take 15 minutes to write a letter to yourself. You can use some of the prompts below or improvise what feels right for you:

    • You may not think this is noticed, but I am so thankful that you…

    • I am most proud of you when you…

    • You set a great example for others because you…

    • Thank you for always…

    • My favourite thing about spending time with you is…

  4. After everyone is done, ask for volunteers to share their letter. Sharing is not mandatory, but it can be very powerful for a family to hear each other’s words of gratitude.

  5. Next, write a letter to someone in your life for whom you would like to express gratitude. Feel free to use the same prompts as above

  6. Repeat as many times as you like!

  7. If you want to take it a step further, you mail the letters or hand-deliver. Again, not mandatory, but you will be amazed at what happens.

  8. If you do this as a family group, take a moment to share your key takeaways and learnings.

For further inspiration, check out Brian Doyle’s project where he purposely expressed gratitude for 365 days.

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