Writing a Thank You Note to Yourself: a Practice in Self-Gratitude
Many of us have taken the time at some point in our lives to write a thank you note. We may remember writing a thank you after a job interview or maybe we have memories of our parents or teachers telling us what to include in a thank you to a family member or friend (“Let them know how you’ll use the gift!”) or we may even recall times when the words were difficult to find. We may also remember receiving a thank you note and the joy it brought.
These small expressions of gratitude can have significant effects, for both the readers and writers. Writing a thank you note may bring us just as much comfort or happiness as the person to whom we are sending it. But what if I said that we can turn this expression of thanks on its head by writing ourselves a thank you? This practice of self-appreciation takes very little time, yet can have significant results. Through just a few simple steps, we can show ourselves the kind of love we often reserve for others.
Thank you note writing spans all the way back to the ancient Egyptians and ancient Romans, who wrote letters to the deceased and to their loved ones. Although technology has changed our communication methods today, the act of expressing gratitude still holds the value seen all the way back in ancient times.
Those who consistently write thank you notes have been found, through research, to be in more positive spirits overall (Dishman, 2019). Specifically, a study published by the Harvard Medical School showed that individuals who engaged in writing about gratitude regularly for only 10 weeks were found to be more optimistic about their lives, to exercise more, and to make fewer trips to physicians (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). So, clearly the effects of expressing gratitude can be profound. It can lead to elevated optimism and overall happiness that can then have an impact on our physical well being.
Knowing the benefits of expressing gratitude, we may now ask “Well, where do I start?” Writing a thank you note can be a daunting task. If you find yourself struggling to find the right words, it may be helpful to go back to the roots of the commonly-used phrase “thank you.” Coming from the Old English word “think,” the Oxford English Dictionary states that “thank you” evolved from meaning “a favourable thought or feeling” to “a kindly thought or feeling entertained towards any one for favour or services received” (Dishman, 2019). This definition highlights the most important aspect of expressing gratitude: authenticity. The exact words and phrasing holds far less value than connecting with a true emotion and writing from the heart.
It may be easy for us to tap into that feeling of gratitude for a family member, a friend, or a colleague who has positively impacted our lives. We may, however, find it a bit more difficult to find that same appreciation for ourselves. This is why this exercise of expressing self-gratitude is so important. We don’t often practice saying thank you to the most important person: ourselves! We must learn to speak to ourselves with the same compassion and love we would use to communicate with a loved one. And one of the easiest ways to take the first step in practicing this skill is to write a thank you note to yourself!
Tips for Writing a Thank You Note to Yourself
- Set aside time
This can be 5 minutes or a half an hour. Block out enough time from your schedule so you do not feel rushed and can really embrace the exercise.
- Find a spot where you are comfortable
This can be a place of solitude or a busy coffee shop. It is a place where you feel at ease and will not be too distracted.
- Decide the format of your note
You can embrace old-fashioned pen and paper writing, or type the note on your computer, or even record a voice memo. Find the format allowing your genuine expression.
- Write specifically and authentically
Choose a tone (formal or informal) and voice (first, second, or third person) that is comfortable and does not feel forced. When writing, you can think big or small, every day, or once-in-a-lifetime.
Dear self, thank you for trying something new. It is hard to get out of your comfort zone, but here you are trying this new exercise to practice seeing the good inside of yourself.
Hello (Name), thank you for making it through the hard days and choosing to move forward. You got this.
Dear body, thank you for allowing me to hug my loved ones, dance, sing, see my friends (even through a computer screen), and write this note. I sometimes may be hard on you, but you are incredibly beautiful just as you are.
(Name), You are brave. You are smart. You are kind. You are resilient.
Hi self, thank you for being authentically YOU even when it is hard and you want to hide. No one else can do it the way that you do.
After completing your thank you note to yourself, find a spot to keep or display it so you can connect with it as much as you would like. You can place a hand-written note or printed out copy on your bedside table, inside of your favorite book, or on your mirror. You can listen to your voice memo in your car on your way to work or before going to bed. And once you feel ready, perhaps give it another go and thank yourself again!
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to express appreciation for ourselves, and there are no shoulds or should-nots! Just connect to your authentic voice and convey what you are feeling. We can only become more comfortable expressing and accepting self-gratitude through practice. So, go ahead and try it!
This blog was written by Berklea Going, an intern with California Women’s Therapy.