With Thanksgiving approaching in Canada, it is a time I like to reflect on what I’m grateful for. In fact, researchers (Seligman, Steen & Peterson, 2005) found that by writing a letter of gratitude and delivering it to the person can increase your happiness level as well as decrease your depression. A few years ago, I tried writing a letter of gratitude. A bit of background is in order.

After my husband graduated from university in Ontario, we decided to go on a family holiday and see the East Coast before we moved back to the West. When we were in Newfoundland, we were in a car accident. A car was trying to pass a semitrailer. The car was traveling about 120km/hr and we were traveling at about 80km/hr. My husband had pulled over to the shoulder and we thought we had made it by. At the time, it was snowing and the other driver touched her brakes and we were t-boned. We flipped in mid-air and landed on the drivers side in a creek at the bottom of an embankment. We skidded along for about 50 meters before the car righted itself on the other side of the creek. For my husband, he simply undid his seat-belt and walked away Рthere was nothing left on his side of the car. For myself, the snow had built up on my side so I had to use my shoulder to get the door open. I also had to get our two-year-old son out of the back seat. By the time I was ready to cross the creek, a lady was there to help me cross the creek and get up to the top of the embankment.  Once we were at the top of the hill, the lady that had helped me was taken one way by the police to give a statement and I was taken the other way Рshe was the lady that hit us. I never had a chance to thank her for helping me get our son across the creek and up the hill. Although admittedly, at the time I probably would not have thought to thank her! Amazingly, none of us were hurt.

A few years ago, I had time to reflect on what had happened in my life. I realized that the car accident had been a turning point and had a major impact on our lives. My husband and I realized how lucky we were to walk away from the accident. The first police officer on the scene kept telling me she couldn’t believe we had walked away because she had attended accidents not nearly as bad as ours had been and everyone had been killed. The accident had made us realize that no one knows what tomorrow holds and so we should live life for today. We tried to raise our children with this philosophy – live for today because no one knows what tomorrow will bring. When I was diagnosed with cancer, this philosophy, I believe, really helped all of us through the journey.

A few weeks after I had been given the all clear, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. When we were sitting and having a quite moment¬† reflecting, I realized that I had never thanked the lady from the car accident for helping me get my son across the creek and up the hill. I found my journal with her name in it and I “googled” her. I found an email address that I thought could be hers. In the subject line I put “positive impact.” I started my email with: “If you’re the lady that was in a car accident on May 7, 1990, I want to let you know about the positive impact that accident had in our lives and if you’re not the lady, sorry for bothering you.” I went on to tell her about our philosophy in raising our two children as well as thank her for her help. I was so excited to receive an email back telling me that she too had tried to raise her children with the same philosophy.

Seligman and colleagues suggest you write a thank you letter to someone in your past you felt you had never thanked properly. Then if you can, deliver the letter in person. Even though I was not able to deliver the letter in person, writing the email gave me a sense of satisfaction that I had reached out to thank someone. When I received the email back, I was so excited to see the accident had had a positive impact on her life too – it certainly raised my level of happiness! As Thanksgiving approaches, maybe you too can think of someone from your past that you never thanked properly. It could be a teacher or coach or maybe a family member, anyone from your past that you feel like you never thanked properly. Maybe it will boost your happiness level too.

Happy Thanksgiving.