For many, gratitude is foremost on our minds as Thanksgiving approaches. We reflect on the many gifts Allah has given us, including family, food, shelter, health, friendship, and most of all, our beautiful religion, Islam.
While we mentally list our many blessings, do we also take the time to show gratitude to the people who have enhanced our life? Thanking others is not only good manners, it is a crucial part of our religion. Abu Huraira reported the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Whoever does not thank people has not thanked Allah.”
(Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 4811)
Sending handwritten thank-you notes has a uniquely positive impact. To learn more about this simple yet effective connection strategy, I interviewed empowerment coach Jennessa Durrani. In addition to hosting a supportive online community for midlife moms, Durani is an entrepreneur, wife, mother of two teen boys, and a member of her local Islamic center’s shura council. Durani founded the Happy Mail Circle, a service that regularly provides works of art in postcard form so that subscribers can strengthen connections with loved ones via beautiful handwritten notes.
Q: Why do you think handwritten thank-you notes are so satisfying for the sender and receiver?
Durani: With the digital age, rapid communication has become second nature. We shoot off a quick text, direct message, or email, and then we are on to the next thing. And while reaching out to let someone know you are thinking of them, showing your gratitude, or checking on them via those methods of communication is far better than not doing it all, it doesn’t enable the sender or the receiver to savor the message, to feel the message. No one waits by their phone in anticipation of a text. No one rereads a meaningful direct message. And no is printing a copy of a nice email and tucking it into the book they are currently reading.
That’s what handwritten happy mail provides. It allows the sender to take a few minutes to compose a message and pour a little love and attention into it. Even if it’s the same thing they would have delivered by email. And the receiver is delighted by finding something other than junk mail in their mailbox and is provided the opportunity to take a few minutes out of their day to focus on the message that was sent. It lands in the heart.
Q: What are the benefits of showing gratitude to the people you love, or even the people who have made a positive impact on your life?
Durani: Studies have shown that sending a handwritten gratitude letter increases the sender and receiver’s happiness level and that increase lasts for nearly a month. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Handwritten notes create and/or strengthen a bond between the sender and the receiver. They inspire the receiver to send their own handwritten notes, to pay it forward.
And so often we assume what we would write in that note is already known by the receiver. But even if they already know that they were helpful, or that they were kind, or that they are loved by the sender, seeing it and having the opportunity to continue to come back to it increases the impact on them. The handwritten note is something that can be kept, revisited, and savored.
Q: What if someone doesn't know what to write in a thank-you note? Some people aren't in the habit of composing them, or they panic when they see a blank space that needs to be filled with words. Any suggestions?
Durani: I suggest using a postcard or a small notecard, as the space is very limited. These make that white space less daunting. Three to four sentences are all you need. Start by finishing one of these sentences:
- “I just wanted you to know…”
- “I wanted to take a moment to thank you so much for…”
- “You had such a positive impact on…”
Add a sentence about what it meant to you, and end with an impactful closing line:
- “Thank you for being you.”
- “You are such a great example to those around you.”
- “I’m so lucky to have you in my life.”
- “Keep shining your light.”
We find it easiest to write a letter of gratitude when we receive a tangible item, and those are important. But what is so much more impactful for both the sender and receiver is when we send love and gratitude out into the world when it’s not expected. Having a daily gratitude practice of writing a few lines before going to bed about what we are grateful for does boost our happiness, can increase our health, and improve our mood. But if we can add to that and create a weekly happy mail practice where we send gratitude to someone who isn’t expecting it, it not only increases our mood, health, and happiness by higher measurements, it also does the same for the receiver. It’s truly a gift.
Q: How do we make writing gratitude letters a part of our routine?
Durani: The best way to create a happy mail practice is to put everything you need to send a note together in a very accessible space: in a box on your desk, in your top drawer, etc. You need a stack of small notecards, a sheet of stamps, a pen that you enjoy writing with, and your addresses.
Throughout each day we have many thoughts of people we want to thank, appreciate, or let know we are thinking of them, but the chaos of life keeps us from following through. Having the tools to follow through easily is the key.
Here is a list of potential recipients to get you started:
- Your favorite teacher growing up
- Your child’s favorite teacher
- Your spouse—how often do we send mail to those that live in our own houses?
- Grown children
- Best friends
- Store clerk that was helpful
- Your doctor
- Your children’s best friends
- Your in-laws
As Jennessa Durani points out, writing notes of gratitude is a win-win situation. It increases positive feelings for the sender and the recipient. With an attitude of gratitude fresh in our minds, why don’t we seize the day – and a pen– and tell someone exactly how thankful we are?
Jennessa Durani’s podcast on the power of happy mail: https://jennessadurrani.com/articles/f/an-amazing-story-about-the-power-of-the-written-word
To join the Happy Mail Circle: https://bit.ly/3CZIRza
Jennessa Durani’s website: www.jennessadurrani.com
and podcast: https://dreambigandimplementsmall.buzzsprout.com
Laura El Alam is a first-generation American Muslim and the founder of Sea Glass Writing & Editing www.seaglasswritingandediting.com. A prolific writer, Laura has published articles in numerous magazines and is currently writing a children's picture book for publishing company Ruqaya's Bookshelf, due to be released in 2023, inshaAllah. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts.