Write a Letter of Gratitude

In memory of Professor Chris Peterson

Join Us in Launching Write a Letter of Gratitude Day: February 18 of each year to show our gratitude for Chris and because "other people matter. Period.”

This was Chris Peterson’s motto. A prominent psychologist in the field of positive psychology, Chris Peterson dedicated his life to understanding and practicing positivity in all its forms, from generosity to optimism to vulnerability.

Chris died unexpectedly in 2012, at only 62 years old. The people who knew him, his students, his coworkers, the people he supported and the people who supported him, were all grateful for him during his life, and we want to continue expressing our gratitude for him now. We want to spread the positive psychology that Chris researched, taught, and lived through Write a Letter of Gratitude Day.

Studies on gratitude, like those done by Chris Peterson or by the Greater Good Science Center, have found that focusing on gratitude can improve all kinds of measures of subjective wellbeing. One study conducted in 2011 by Steven M. Toepfer, Kelly Cichy, and Patti Peters found that writing three letters expressing sincere gratitude toward three different people in a one month period significantly improved participants’ ratings of happiness and general life satisfaction, and significantly reduced their ratings of depression.

Despite its health benefits, gratitude is usually much easier said than done. When it’s difficult to find positivity in our own lives, Chris taught us to turn to the lives of others. Remember: “other people matter.” When your thoughts keep twisting inward, turn your focus outward. Expressing gratitude for the people in your life can start to rewire your brain to see more good in the world and in your own life, and it can make others feel happy and loved. There are countless ways to show someone that you’re grateful for their existence in your life, but we propose a specific method: a hand-written letter.

Every year on February 18th, Chris Peterson’s birthday, we want to honor him and continue spreading the positivity of gratitude through Write a Letter of Gratitude Day. We want everyone to hand-write a letter to someone they’re grateful for and read it to them. Taking the time to write a letter by hand shows a level of investment in the other person that instantaneous communication does not, and reading your letter out loud to the person encourages another element of positive psychology: vulnerability. Even though it can be uncomfortable, awkward, or downright terrifying, to see others and be seen by others is a powerful thing.