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Happiness is just a letter of gratitude away

November 27, 2008 | 12:01 pm

If you want to feel more happy — fast — grab a pen and paper.

LettersThe secret to happiness may be in expressive writing; specifically, writing letters to people showing gratitude. Steven Toepfer, an assistant professor of family and consumer studies at Kent State University, conducted a study to determine what would make people feel happier, especially in a consumer-oriented culture in which things are supposed to bring us joy.

He had students write one letter every two weeks for a six-week period to people who had had a positive influence on their lives. The letters had to be positive, include some insight and reflection, didn’t venture into trivial waters, and expressed great appreciation. After each letter was written, the students took a survey that gauged their mood, their satisfaction with life, and their feelings of gratitude and happiness.

According to Toepfer, the students’ levels of happiness increased after each letter, and 75% of them said they wanted to keep writing the letters, even when the study was finished.

"The most powerful thing in our lives is our social network," said Toepfer in a news release. "It doesn't have to be large, and you don't always need to be the life of the party, but just having one or two significant connections in your life has shown to have terrific psychological and physical benefits."

He added, "We are all walking around with an amazing resource: gratitude. It helps us express and enjoy, appreciate, be thankful and satisfied with a little effort. We all have it, and we need to use it to improve our quality of life."

But this isn’t the only way of staying on the sunny side of life. In a recent exploration into the science of being happy, The Times explained how to get — and stay — happy in these stories:

C'mon, get happy

Tips on switching to a happy outlook

A guide to enhancing happiness

One couple who found the way

Recent self-help books on happiness

Photo credit: Herb Nygren Jr. / Associated Press