Living Fully, Living Gratefully: The Gratitude Visit

By Mark D. Roberts

March 10, 2020

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.

Colossians 1:3-4 (NRSV)


In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we noted that the Apostle Paul not only thanked God for the recipients of his letter to Colossae, but also that he let the Colossians know of his gratitude to God for them. This was common practice for Paul, and I suggested that it should be common practice for us as well. In addition to saying “Thank you” to those for whom we are grateful, we might also, when appropriate, tell them “I thank God for you.”

Communicating our gratitude to others can make a difference in their lives, in our relationships with them, and even in our own level of happiness. The connection between sharing gratitude and personal wellbeing has been shown in a variety of psychological studies. For example, in 2005, psychologist Martin Seligman and his colleagues published a paper in the American Psychologist called “Positive Psychology Progress” (Vol 60, No. 5, pp. 410-521, July-August 2005). In this article they reported on research they had done related to gratitude and wellbeing. In one case, a group of people was given the assignment to write a letter of gratitude to someone who had made a difference in their lives and then deliver this letter to that person. The result of this “Gratitude Visit” was striking. Those who communicated their thankfulness to others increased significantly in their own happiness in comparison to a control group that did not make such a visit. The visitors also experienced much less depression.

Paul’s biblical example and the research of Seligman’s team confirm what I know from my own experience. Though I have never made an official Gratitude Visit, I have learned to regularly thank people who have touched my life in some way. Sometimes I’ll drop a handwritten note in the mail (yes, snail mail!). More commonly, I’ll send an email. In a few sentences I’ll explain why I am thankful for what someone has done for me.

In fact, just yesterday I read an excellent article from an author I did not know. I found that author’s email address online and dropped him a note of thanks. Today, I received a heartfelt reply from the author, which began: “Thanks so very much for your message. It was kind and gracious of you to take time to write and your words were an unexpected blessing on a Sunday afternoon. Mark, I’m glad to know that you found the article helpful.” I’m glad to have been able to bless someone else, and research shows that I actually increased my own happiness by doing so.

If you’re able to make a Gratitude Visit, I’ll supply some basic instructions below. But, even if this is not possible for you right now, perhaps you can communicate special gratitude to someone today.

Something to Think About:

Have you ever done a Gratitude Visit or something like it? If so, what happened? How did you feel afterwards?

Why do you think expressing gratitude to others can make such a difference in our own experience of wellbeing?

Who are the people in your life who had a positive impact on your life but whom you’ve not yet thanked? Are you willing to reach out to thank them in the near future?

Something to Do:

Make a Gratitude Visit. First, think of someone who has had a positive influence on your life but has not yet learned of your gratitude to them. Then, write a one-page (or so) letter to them. Don’t rush this process. Think about what the person did for you and why it matters. Then, when the letter is finished, contact the person and ask if you might be able to meet with them face-to-face. (If this is not possible, a digital conference or phone call would be okay.) Bring your letter to the meeting and, after initial greetings, read the letter. Don’t rush this, either. Then, when you’re done, give them a copy of your letter. After this, you can talk about whatever seems appropriate.

Note: This version of the Gratitude Visit comes mainly from Martin Seligman in his book, Authentic Happiness. He would also encourage you to laminate the letter that you give to the other person.


Gracious God, once again I thank you for the example of Paul, who so faithfully shared his gratitude with the people for whom he was grateful. I thank also for folks like Martin Seligman, whose research helps me to understand how gratitude can make such a difference.

If I am able to make a Gratitude Visit, please guide me in this process and be part of it. But, whether I make such a visit or not, teach me how to regularly share my gratitude for others. Help me to do so in person, in letters, in emails, in texts, and in whatever other ways are appropriate. Amen.

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
The Rewards of Gratitude, Part 1–An Enlarged Heart

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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