The power of appreciation

A role for 'gratitude letters' or an even lighter touch approach?

I recently attended a funeral in which friends of the man who had died spoke of his many acts of kindness and consideration to themselves and to others. Afterwards I spoke to his widow of the number and warmth of these tributes. She replied, ‘I just wish they had said these things to him before he died!’

As psychologists, we are aware of the power of appreciation and positive feedback and of the sometimes devastating effects of criticism and rejection. I suggest that as professionals we have the awareness and perhaps even the responsibility to offer encouragement, warmth and appreciation – even if this sometimes feels embarrassing or even counter-cultural.

There is now empirical evidence which demonstrates the value of expressing gratitude. Participants in three studies by Kumar and Epley (2018) wrote letters which expressed appreciation and gratitude and estimated how the recipients would react. Upon following up the recipients, the researchers found that the authors of the letters had consistently underestimated how pleased the recipients would be to receive the letters and how warm and competent they perceived the authors of the letters to be. There were no differences attributable to age or gender. For further details of the study see Christian Jarrett’s Research Digest blog (tinyurl.com/y89dfpen).

Showing appreciation can be very simple; while formal ‘gratitude letters’ such as in the study mentioned above are now being discussed among psychologists, I am suggesting that an even lighter touch can enhance wellbeing: a few words, a text, a phone call, even a smile, may make the difference between disappointment and despondency and a sense of wellbeing and hopefulness.

Carole Sutton
Kendal

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