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How writing a gratitude letter can help us get closer to the ones we love

SALT LAKE CITY — The holiday season is in full swing and many turn to gratitude to help overcome the stress and anxiety that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought.

Dr. Matt Woolley, a Clinical psychologist for the University of Utah and cohost of the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast, recently spoke about gratitude and how we can use it to get closer to the ones we love.

Appreciate the little things

Studies have shown that over 90% of American teens and adults indicated that expressing gratitude made them “extremely happy” or “somewhat happy”. 

This perception of happiness after showing gratitude is all part of the cognitive patterns that we use to process emotions. Just thinking about gratitude can have a dramatic impact on how you live your life according to Dr. Woolley.

“One of the things that [psychologists] talk a lot about is this cognitive pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. How I think about things has a huge impact on how I feel and those feelings, that state of emotion, has a huge impact on what I do,” he said. 

When you identify what you’re grateful for it can have a dramatic effect on your emotions.

“When you are thinking grateful thoughts … it changes your emotions. Your emotions become positive optimistic, you feel more love and appreciation,” Dr. Woolley said.

One way to reinforce that appreciation is to write a gratitude letter.

Write a gratitude letter

“It’s a pretty emotional experience for most people but in a good way. So you have to be prepared for some pretty intense positive emotions,”

“If you were to sit down and think about someone in your life … that you are grateful for, I’d like to you sit down and 5-10 reasons why you’re grateful for that person,”

Once you’ve sat down with your reason, you just write them a letter. Yes, an actual letter using a pen and paper. You then lay out all of the reasons why you’re grateful for that person. You can list the reasons why they have a positive impact on your life or how they inspire you to be a better person.

Then you just give them the letter. One of the most emotional steps though is to read it out loud yourself.

According to Dr. Woolley, this is one of the hardest steps of the letter. But it also opens up the dialogue to discuss how everyone truly feels.

“Research shows us that if you had a good relationship with this person in the past, it’s going to be even better for the rest of your life,” he added. “If you’ve never done this it’s a tremendous experience.”

When we look back on the tumultuous events of 2020, maybe we all could use a little more gratitude in our lives says Dr. Woolley.

“Gratitude is something that we should really strive to purposefully do in our life. There’s a lot of things to not be grateful for,” Dr. Woolley said. “Or you can redial in on the things you’re grateful for in your life, the people you’re grateful for in your life, and realize that that really outweighs the negative.”

To learn more about gratitude, listen to the Project Recovery podcast

For more information on opioid prevention or if you or someone you know is struggling, you can find more information on Facebook, KSL TV, or Know Your Script. To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get major podcasts.