More Research Support for Gratitude

New research, once again, illustrates the value of writing thank-you letters. A recent study shows that senders underestimate the impact of sending a letter of gratitude, which prevents them from writing one. People also worry that letters will be scrutinized and that receivers will feel awkward, but none of these perceptions align with the reality.

In their study, Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley, at the University of Chicago, compared how "expressers" felt about writing a letter with how people felt receiving them. Receivers felt more surprised about receiving the letters and about the content, more positive, and less awkward than the senders thought they would be. Most expressers spent less than five minutes writing a letter.

Understandably, writers in the study doubted their own competence. Participants answered questions such as, “To what extent were you able to express your gratitude using words that were just right?” and “After your recipient reads your letter, how articulate do you believe they will think your expression of gratitude is?” People who received messages rated senders as more competent than senders rated themselves.

This study builds on Kumar's earlier work showing that reflecting on experiences rather than on material goods makes people feel better and act more generously toward others.


  • Have you sent a letter of gratitude in the past couple of years? What inspired you to send it? How was it received?
  • Have you thought about sending a letter but did not? What stopped you? Do the findings in this study encourage you now? The authors hope so!