Learning to write a gratitude letter is a worthy exercise, for both the writer and the recipient. There are surprises here.
In our wellness work, we learn surprising things about ourselves. First, that expressing gratitude benefits both the giver and the recipient, in terms of mood and overall health. Best of all, giving gratitude, unlike carefully wrapped, commercially obtained holiday gifts, is free.
One particular activity worth noting is the gratitude letter.
Here’s how to do it:
- Write a letter to someone for whom you are grateful, and tell them why.
- Make an appointment to see them in person.
- Read the letter out loud to them.
The research tells us that both the giver and recipient receive a months-long boost in mood from that event.
Why do we not do this all the time?
Reader, I did this last week. I’m here to tell you how it went. One of my mentors is Dr. Fred Platt, author of many peer-reviewed articles and books on Physician-Patient Communication: Field Guide to the Difficult Patient Interview, and the Annals of Internal Medicine’s Words that Matter series, including “Let me see if I have this right …”. In later years, he wrote poetry.
He helped me get started in academic medicine, in teaching medical students, in learning how to be an excellent communicator, and in being a better doctor, a better colleague, a better human being.
Now, decades later, his health declining, I wrote him a letter, made an appointment, and drove to see him. He only had the energy for a 30-minute visit, but loved the letter enough to have his wife and I read it to him twice.
Not a dry eye in the house.
I will miss you, Dr. Platt. Thank you.
Thank you for the chance to tell you how you’ve changed my life.
I met you at the Bayer Institute CPC Workshop: Clinician-Patient Communication to Improve Health Outcomes. You facilitated a group of 16 junior faculty in Internal Medicine in 1997, and taught me, among other things, Reflective Listening: “So, it sounds like you’re having some belly pain, and it is going down to the right side, and you think it is … gout? Do I have that right?”
I learned about Ideas, Feelings and Values, and it changed my life. I became a Bayer-certified Communications Facilitator to follow your footsteps.
You took me under your wing, you re-ignited my passion for patient care, and gently taught me tools for difficult conversations: “On the one hand, you think … On the other hand, I worry …”
You co-founded Foundations of Doctoring at University of Colorado. Our initial trials at teaching communication in lecture halls met with abject failure. 160 students at the first lecture, and only 5 come to the second one.
We repeatedly redesigned the course until it really sang: 1 standardized patient, 4 student learners coaching each other, and a facilitator guiding ILS: Invite, Listen, Summarize. I use and teach these tools today to incoming students.
You generously asked me to co-author numerous communications papers, published in several journals, including the series Words That Matter in the Annals of Internal Medicine. We discussed a number of delightful cases, including the case of the patient who ate too many pies at work and wanted to claim workman’s compensation, prompting an outburst from my resident.
For this computer-geek doctor, you taught me compassion and connection and relationship-building. These are my guiding principles to this day. In my national travels and talks that I give in the Informatics world, there are few who have had a mentor like you.
I am proud to teach your ideas that words matter, communication matters, relationships matter.
I’ve learned over the years, that I have an internal Judge voice, who sounds suspiciously like my father, and an internal Sage voice, who I call Fred.
I am so grateful for your teaching, your counsel, your collegiality, and your friendship.
Thank you, Fred.