The impact of gratitude letters and visits on relationships, happiness, well-being, and meaning of graduate students

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David R. Stefan, Erin M. Lefdahl-Davis, Matthew Decker, Tracy M. Kulwicki, Jeffrey S. Parsell
Alexandra J. Alayan
Josie L. Wittwer


In this mixed-methods research, we examined the practice of writing and delivering letters of gratitude (gratitude visits) and its impact on well-being, happiness, meaning and relationships for students in an online graduate program in psychology. Participants completed assessments and inventories relating to happiness, well-being and meaning in life, including the Satisfaction with Life Scale, Meaning in Life Questionnaire, Approaches to Happiness Questionnaire and open-ended qualitative questions before and after they wrote and delivered gratitude letters. Quantitative analyses found significant increases in meaning in life, satisfaction with life, and approaches to happiness after the gratitude visit intervention. Using a grounded theory qualitative analysis of the data, eight primary themes emerged related to the impact and meaning of gratitude letters on graduate students:  (1) the impact on the relationship; (2) positive emotions experienced; (3) experiencing a reciprocal expression of gratitude from the receiver; (4) overcoming uncomfortable emotions; (5) relief, release or liberation after sharing; (6) impact on spiritual growth; (7) unexpected responses; and (8) greater reflection on the meaning of life and a changed perspective. Overall, providing graduate students with the opportunity to engage in gratitude visit interventions was related to greater meaning and well-being. This study suggests implications and recommendations related to the use of positive psychology interventions in educational settings.

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