What Really Happens When You Write a Thank You Note

Do you know what really happens inside of you when you write a thank you note? What if I told you that thousands of years of scientific research showed me that one note, once a week can change who you are? Would you join the Thank You Revolution then?

What gratitude does to the brain

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When you force yourself once a week to write a thank you note, here’s what happens:

1. Recall

You recall the event and person for which you are thankful.

When you sit down to write that note and require yourself to think of something from the previous week for which you are thankful, you will recall certain events. Think of them and then allow yourself to progress to step two.

2. Relive

You relive the event in its entirety.

Picture all of the details. Who said what and when? Remember how you felt. Remember the feeling of thankfulness.

Allow yourself to re-experience the event. And then something cool happens…

3. Area 17 lights up

What? Is that where they kept the aliens in the 60’s. No, that was Area 51.

Area 17 is the part of your visual cortex in the brain that is the primary processor of visual input. In other words, it’s the “seeing” part of the brain. It’s the part of the brain that sees colors, shapes, and allows you to recognize familiar people and places.

And the coolest thing about it is that it doesn’t know the difference between an actual event and a vivid memory. When you relive the event and think of all the details, your brain is literally processing it as though it is happening.

If the event was frightening, your body produces the same fight or flight reaction as it does if you were living through it now. If it was happy, your body releases the same amount of dopamine and serotonin as it did when it actually happened. You get twice the happiness!

Or is it more…?

4. You relive it again

When you deliver your note, you will usually hear about it.

“Thank you for the note” is a very common response. Once again you will be reminded of the event. You may even discuss it in detail with the recipient. Again, dopamine and serotonin flood your systems. You’ve lived it three times and the recipient has lived it twice. It’s getting good.

And then the fifth step kicks in and things magnify…

5. You want more

Could gratitude be like a drug?

Could it be that addictive that you’d want to do this every day? Could it feel so good that you become like Jon Stolpe, writing eight notes in a week?

Could you make the time (five minutes a day) to discipline yourself to sit down and go through this process? Five minutes. That’s all it takes to change your life.

Yes, I said change your life

I’m not talking just about the benefits you will see in your career or relationships. I’m not even talking about how this practice will get you “ahead in life.”

I’m talking about how it will change your brain and change your body.

When your body naturally produces more dopamine and serotonin, it changes you.

You will be happier and more energetic.

You will increase your metabolism and shed those extra pounds.

You will be more productive and have laser-like focus.

And it’s not a stretch to say that it can free you from addiction, depression, and bad habits of all sorts.

Gratitude has that kind of power.

But it takes a start. It takes one day a week. That’s all the Revolution asks for.

Are you in? Join now.

If you’re already a part of the Revolution, you know the amazing effect it can have on your life. If you’re not, I hope you’ll join us.

Question: What affect has gratitude had on your life? If you’re a part of the Revolution, share a story here of how it’s impacted you. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Great post, Matt. To everyone else, try the Thank You Revolution for 90 days. If you aren’t satisfied with the results, maybe Matt will pay for your thank you notes.

    • Call it the Thank You Revolution Challenge. You write at least one thank you note each week for 90 days (13 weeks). Then share your stories with the rest of us.

      • For a moment I thought I read “write at least one thank you note each day”. I thought, I’d better stop at the craft store and stock up :0)

  • LadyMcKermit

    This practice is discussed in a great Ted Talk I love.. Check it out when you get the chance http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html

    • Funny you mention Shawn Achor…I literally just got both of his books last night. Look forward to reading them!

  • My daughter and I just made two handmade cards to give to our best supporters. Area 17 is brightly shining.

  • Katherine Leicester

    Two keys to happiness? Generosity and… GRATITUDE!

  • It’s true. When we fill another’s bucket we also fill our own. Thank you for a great reminder to remember on how important this is

  • I absolutely LOVE the way you have explained the physical and emotional effects of being thankful. There is no reason why we wouldn’t continue to grow the Revolution! Here’s my story to share:

    I gave a coworker a thank you note for helping me when we had a chili cook off at work. Here is his response:

    “WOW…. You have some serious Santa Claus/Tooth Fairy type of stealth technique… I never saw you drop that card off at my desk!

    Truthfully, it was my pleasure to help out, it was the least
    I could do. Thank you again for the kind gesture – I really do appreciate it, you’ve made my Friday!

    I myself, became a huge fan of sending thank you notes after reading 365 Thanks Yous about a year ago… Well, thank you for linking me to the TYR, I’ll find some time to write a hand-written thank you note to someone today!”

    • I’ve got a post coming up that I think you’ll like. It will inspire you even more to put it into hyperdrive.

  • List Lady returns:

    1. The Thank You Revolution helps the Post Office.

    2. It helps people who sell notecards and supplies to make them.

    3. I posted about it on my blog on Thursday http://www.cabinart.net/new-notecards-for-the-thank-you-revolution/ (Matt, delete this link if it is too self-promotional on your blog.)

    4. Area 17 must be the place that allows people to draw. I love that place, so THANK YOU for giving it a name!

    5. Gratitude could be a truly healthy addiction for which no rehab is required.

    • List Lady is always welcome.

      Thanks for the kind words in your post. That is too cool.

      I do believe that Area 17 is directly associated with artistic inclinations. Not sure about that…I forget that part of my Biopsych class 15 years ago :)

      #5 is SPOT on!

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