A Gratitude Letter
April 10, 2014
Both Positive Psychology and Positive Organizational Scholarship rest on the assumption that we should focus on the good in others. All too often we have positive thoughts about other people, but not very often do we actually share them with one another. Christopher Peterson suggests in his Primer in Positive Psychology textbook that writing a letter of gratitude to someone that made a difference in your life is one of the ways that can bring the strongest positive emotions to both you and the recipient. Regardless of the psychological benefits, I believe people deserve to be appreciated when they do wonderful things for others. As I step down from my RA position and prepare for my undergrad graduation, I decided to write this letter to my RA from freshman year because he made a positive difference to me:
It’s amazing that it’s been 4 years since I moved into West Quad as a lost freshman, across the hall from probably one of the coolest people I could have met.
As I’m about to graduate in less than a month (!!!) I’ve started reflecting on my last 4 years and what the hell I actually did with them. It seems like people don’t change much in college, but when I think back to where I was 4 years ago, I suppose I did.
One thing I learned in college is that if you think something nice about someone, you should probably say it to them.
In the simplest terms, I was a restless, clingy freshman overwhelmed by an enormous university. I want you to know that I genuinely appreciate the kindness and support you gave me at a time when I needed it. I think back to the seemingly small things you did – like stopping us in the hallway to ask about our exams, eating in the dining hall with us, and ordering us pizza in the hallway – because in retrospect that’s what mattered.
I knew you were cool at the time, but in looking back now, I can see all of the great things you did with even more appreciation.
You went out of your way to make me happy. You could have easily worked out by yourself, but you noticed that I was bored and lonely. You took the extra time to bring me along, and even taught me a personalized workout (some damn good community building if you ask me). Not only did you give me something to do with all of my spare time (how did I even have that?) but you got to know me in the process.
I remember talking on the way to the IM building and you’d ask me these deep wildcard questions about life. Even though I didn’t always know how to answer them at the time, I wish someone would ask me them now. It showed that you were interested in what I had to say. It drives me crazy when you meet someone and have a conversation, but you realize that they didn’t ask a single question about you. It seems so simple, but it makes a huge difference to ask someone about herself.
As I’m filling out my exit interview for my last 1:1 with my HD, the last question asks for one piece of advice I would give to an incoming staff member. After I answered it by saying, “ask more questions,” I realized I should probably finish writing this letter to you that I started earlier this year. I realized that what I had typed out was exactly what you did for me, and what I should have been doing with my residents all along.
For the past two years, I have doubted my effectiveness as an RA. I’ve learned that my introverted-ness makes it hard for me to chat in the hallways with residents 24/7. On top of it, I always had you to compare myself to, which probably gave me impossible shoes to fill. But realistically on my own terms, I know that I have 50 residents. If I can be as good of an RA with even one person as you were to me, I will feel that I have been successful. (Ironically just now one of my residents knocked on my door inviting me to her room to eat pancakes. I guess I’ll take that as a win!)
Basically what I’m trying to say is thank you. People deserve to be reminded when they make a positive impact on someone’s life. Both then and now, I appreciate everything you did for me and for our hall – from the small things to the big things.
I hope that you’re enjoying your life, and that all is well with med school, with your sister, and with your family. I wonder if you’ve met the girl yet who you will serenade with “More Than Words” with your guitar.
Next fall I’ll be starting at Michigan’s School of Social Work. If you’re ever in town and want to catch up, you’ve got my number and you’ll know where to find me. Thanks again for being a friend and for showing me how to be a good person.