New Year’s Resolution – Thank Someone Who Made A Difference In Your Life

Jan 13th, 2010 by actonmba

Thank You NoteNew Year’s resolutions don’t have to all be about breaking bad habits. This year, start a new habit, one of recognizing your personal heroes with gratitude letters.

Sure, you may have written a quick thank you note to your grandmother for that lovely sweater, but you probably haven’t written a letter of gratitude. Start the year off right by properly thanking a person who helped you find success in life.  Reflecting on this person and your successes, writing the letter, and reconnecting with the person will be a challenging, yet rewarding, resolution to fulfill.

Acton students write gratitude letters to the people who inspired them as a way of recognizing that, in reality, go-at it alone entrepreneurs rarely go at it alone.

The students then read their letters aloud to their mentors. “While each year, our students approach this assignment with trepidation – reading a personal letter aloud to someone is no easy feat – it always ends up being the students’ favorite. Recognizing someone for their hard work is just so gratifying, especially when you do it in person, because you see their reaction,” says Acton co-founder and teacher Jeff Sandefer.

You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to thank someone. Select one important person from your past who has made a major difference in your life, like a middle school soccer coach, high school biology teacher, former boss, or mentor. Write a one page testimonial that explains how she shaped your life. It may take you several weeks to write and re-write this short letter  – that’s OK. Then, set up a lunch or a meeting and read your letter to her. Make sure you meet face-to-face and not over the phone or via mail. She took the time for you. It’s time that you returned the favor. After you’ve finished reading the letter aloud, give her time to react. Reminisce together. When you leave, give her a nicely printed, or even laminated, copy of your letter.

Trust us, the experience will have a powerful effect on both of you. Psychological studies show that, not only will the exercise will boost your happiness for weeks to come, but that small acts of gratitude also snowball.

Use the sample letter, below, as a starting point.  The Acton Foundation has more tips on writing a gratitude letter here.

January 2, 2010

Dear Ms. Watson,

As a teacher, I sometimes wonder if I’m really making a difference in the lives of my students.  I hope so, but I’m never quite sure. I’m here today, as one of your students, to thank you for changing my life.

Forty years ago, you were a lifesaver.  My parents were going through a bitter divorce.  Our once love-filled home was turned upside down in such a terrifying way that I don’t think I ever fully recovered. I was a scared, sad, angry, hurt little boy whose safe world no longer seemed safe.

You were a relatively young teacher with a classroom full of high-energy kids.  I cannot imagine how busy you must have been in that class, in your own life, and in battling the day-to-day bureaucracy that exists in any school.

Yet you took an interest in that hurt little boy.  Your sense of humor, caring and concern would stay with me for the rest of my life.  It made me love learning, and no doubt led me to become a teacher too.

Thirty years is a long time to wait to say thank you, but I hope it’s not too late.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of children and teachers whose lives you touched, many of whom I know that feel the same way I do.  Each of those lives is touching the lives of others, sending ripples across time that wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for you.

So if you ever wonder if you really made a difference in this world, a profound and important difference, I’m here today to tell you that you did, and to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Sincerely, always your fifth grade student at heart,


Exercise adapted from Authentic Happiness. Photo courtesy of craftrocklove.

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Posted in Life of Meaning

6 Responses

  1. [...] the original here: Acton School of Business – Entrepreneurship – Higher Education … Share and [...]

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lord Acton and WolfPac1, Jackie Yun. Jackie Yun said: RT @ActonMBA New Year’s Resolution: Thank Someone Who Made A Difference In Your Life [...]

  3. TD says:

    Thank you for the form letter as well as jogging my memory.
    Your blog just reminded me of several deserving people who have made a difference.

  4. actonmba says:

    TD, you’re welcome! We hope that everyone remembers to take even a small amount of time out of their day to thank someone who deserves it.

  5. Adalia John says:

    I think we should make giving thanks a daily habit. We can find a myriad of reasons to be thankful and someone to give thanks too. If it’s not a physical being – then the universe (our source of all things) or whatever other name you choose – should be given thanks daily.

  6. [...] gratitude can boost your happiness even if the letter is not sent. Each year, Acton students write gratitude letters to a person who has inspired them and reads the letter aloud to their [...]

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