This Article First Appeared in Happify
It’s not often we follow through on advice. However good it is. Don’t believe me? What was the last book your read, last course you took, or last seminar you attended? Did you have some amazing aha moments? And what did you do about them?
When I started earning my graduate degree in positive psychology, one of the things I learned early on was the power of gratitude letters. Research shows that writing a detailed gratitude letter to someone you’ve never thanked properly may benefit your well‑being and relationships. If you also share your letter with the person, the benefits are even greater.
The idea really spoke to me, but that was more than ten years ago, and I never did write that letter. Until recently. Ever since the lockdown, my four children and I have been living in a small downtown apartment. It was ample in size when it was just me and my 15-year-old, but it’s not with the other three home from college, and the lack of physical space is really testing our love for each other.
My initial excitement of “This is so nice, I love having you all at the dinner table,” has turned into endless pleas of “Be grateful” and “Let go.” And that’s when I’m not completely depleted of emotional strength.
Most times, we’re all scraping the bottom of an empty vessel. Without physical boundaries, I can see how our emotional boundaries have become sky high. We have far less tolerance, and far too much energy to blow little things completely out of proportion. Recently, this had started making me very unhappy.
When I would lie in bed at night, I would think of how this time could be an opportunity for us to strengthen our relationships. Instead, we were wasting it with needless fights, nitpicking on unimportant things, and blindness to what was good in each other. No wonder we were living up to our negative labels. That’s when I remembered the gratitude letter. Gratitude expands our perspective, helps us see the good, and creates space in our hearts, even when there’s little in our homes. And so, I decided to write one for my children. The real letter was much longer, but I’ll share a snippet that I hope may inspire you to write your own.
My bachas, (it’s what I call my children)
This crisis has really tested our love. We’re in each other’s hair all the time. I feel for you. You’re at an age when you need your space. And your friends. I need my space, too, and adult conversation. And even though Zoom calls were nice in the beginning, just us together is our reality.
We’ve had our share of fights and down days. I’ve been a nagging mother, at times, and you’ve not always pulled your weight. But I’m so grateful for the many beautiful moments we spend together. Working side by side. Chilling on the couch and sharing our plans. Fun dinners and movie nights. I’ve marveled at your ability to sit with the uncertainty and to take things as they come. That’s not easy to do, believe me.
The thousand-piece puzzle on the floor seems to be a reflection of our current lives. Hope for what it’ll become. Mess in the process. Pieces fit. And then fall apart. And then fit back again better, stronger.
I’m grateful for you, my bachas. There’s nobody I would rather spend confinement with than you! And even though I hope and pray we’re out of this sooner rather than later, and that you can go back to the world and the opportunities that await you, a part of me will hang on to these times, and keep them close to my heart long after they’re over.
I love you!! Mommy
I emailed it to all four of them early in the morning. And then I waited. I couldn’t help feeling vulnerable. What if they found it corny? They were adolescents, after all. What if they found it preachy? They had already learned to roll their eyes when I mentioned gratitude.
But then they burst in the door. There were hugs and tears. There was laughter, even at each other’s jokes! I cannot describe the feelings of joy and connection. All I can tell you is that they were priceless.
So, find your person and write your letter. Then share it with them, even though you may feel vulnerable. We’ve become so good at hiding the contents of our hearts, and pretending to be strong and invincible. But if there’s one truth emerging from this crisis, it’s this—we’re frail and we’re interconnected. And the only way we’ll find joy and strength is by showing up with our heads and our hearts.