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A Mother's Day Gift That Makes You Feel Better, Too

Dear reader,

Mother's Day is upon us and I'm here to share some news with you. While there's nothing wrong with a well-chosen gift, recent research in psychology suggests your time might be better spent writing a well-crafted card to mom.

A study by Toepfer, Cichy and Peters, published last year in the Journal of Happiness Studies, found that writing letters of gratitude increased the letter-writer's life satisfaction and happiness. Doing so also decreased symptoms associated with depression.

The researchers recruited 219 adults to participate in the study. Over the course of four weeks, people in the experimental group wrote three letters of gratitude expressing their appreciation for one or more individuals. Participants were asked "to be reflective, write expressively, and compose letters from a positive orientation while avoiding 'thank you notes' for material gifts." The letters were mailed to their intended recipients at the conclusion of the study.

Participants in a control group were not instructed to write letters, but — along with those in the experimental group — completed tests assessing their life satisfaction, happiness and depressive symptoms at the start and end of the four-week period.

The researchers found positive pre- to post-test changes for participants who wrote letters, but not for those in the control group. Specifically, the letter-writers fared better on measures of life satisfaction (e.g., agreeing with "I am satisfied with life"), happiness (e.g., more likely to select "Compared to most of my peers, I consider myself a very happy person") and depression (e.g., less likely to indicate that in the past week, "I was bothered by things that usually don't bother me").

You knew your mother was right (they always are!) all those years ago when she taught you the value of good manners. Now science confirms it! So, it's time to put pen to paper for a heartfelt letter of gratitude and appreciation. It'll do you both some good.

With heartfelt thanks to my own wonderful mother,


You can keep up with more of what Tania Lombrozo is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

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Tania Lombrozo is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an affiliate of the Department of Philosophy and a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences. Lombrozo directs the Concepts and Cognition Lab, where she and her students study aspects of human cognition at the intersection of philosophy and psychology, including the drive to explain and its relationship to understanding, various aspects of causal and moral reasoning and all kinds of learning.

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