“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” – Buddha
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” – Lao-Tzu
How positive psychology arithmetic (Gratitude Letters + The Platinum Rule) creates a transformational action with lingering effects.
Writing gratitude letters is one of my favorite practices. It’s something I picked up from my professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who advises writing one or two a month to the people who are important to you or who have enriched your life.
“A gratitude letter is not just a thank-you note,” writes Ben-Shahar, in his book Happier. “It is a thoughtful examination of the meaning and pleasure that you derive from the relationship; it describes particular experiences and shared dreams, and whatever else in the relationship is a source of joy. […] A gratitude letter highlights the positive elements of the relationship—past, present, and future—and thereby accentuates them.”
Every time I write one of these letters it makes me feel good, and hopefully makes the recipient feel good as well. It’s a great way to practice gratitude in general, as well as to reflect on all of the people who have positively impacted my life, and the community of support that I too often forget exists.
Over the past few years, I’ve averaged around one letter a month to a wide group of people: my wife, parents, family members, friends, former teachers, coaches, mentors, and more. I keep a running list of names who I’d like to send letters to, but there was one person who wasn’t on the list until just recently – myself.
The Platinum Rule
Most of us are familiar with The Golden Rule, some version of, “Do to others what you would want them to do to you.” Variations can be found in all of the world’s wisdom traditions – the Wikipedia entry cites over 25 different instances from ancient India, China, and Greece, to major world religious and secular movements.1
The Golden Rule is phenomenal advice, but the problem is that often, we actually treat others far better than we treat ourselves. We’re our own harshest critics, we hold ourselves to higher standards, and we sometimes fail to see the beautiful gifts that we have. As Forbes magazine founder Malcom S. Forbes states, “Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
It’s for this reason that, in The Pursuit of Perfect, his follow up book to Happier, Ben-Shahar introduces what he refers to as The Platinum Rule. “Why the double standard, the generosity toward our neighbor and the miserliness where we ourselves are concerned?” he questions. “I propose that we add a new rule, which we can call the Platinum Rule, to our moral code: ‘Do not do unto yourself what you would not do unto others.’”
If we want to truly give love and compassion to others (like I recently witnessed Beyonce doing), then we have to start by giving love and compassion to ourselves.
Gratitude Letters + The Platinum Rule = Love Letter To Yourself
In a recent meeting of a mastermind group that I’m in, we brainstormed ways to meet our basic human need for love and connection. One of the ideas we arrived at was to write a love letter to ourselves.
It was an action that deeply resonated with me, particularly because of the two ideas outlined above, but still weeks passed by without progress. Then, while dealing with a vulnerability hangover from my tell-all post, and the lingering effects of confronting what I considered to be the worst parts of myself, I realized that a little self-love was exactly what the doctor ordered.
I’ve written about and strongly encourage taking care of yourself. Now it was time to fully practice what I preach.
It was a little weird to get started. I didn’t know what to say, or what tense or point-of-view to use. (Who is writing? Do I say “I” or “you?”) It also felt funny to answer Kristen when she asked what I was doing – although, by this point, I’m not sure she’s surprised by much of what I do anymore!
By the time I finished writing, I felt better than I had in weeks. Even as I write this now, the positive energy shift continues to linger.
I’m not going to type out the entirety of my personal love letter here, although I did include an image below for those interested in deciphering my writing. I will share that it opens with, “Dear Michael, I love you. Seriously. I do.” And it ends with, “I love you. I always have. And I always will. And when you forget that, as you will from time to time, read this note, and remember. Yours, and you, forever, Michael.”
Take Action: Write Yourself A Love Letter
As with most of the practices I share, the important part is just doing it! There’s no right or wrong way – I’m learning as well. These are simply some tips to get started.
- Get Supplies. Physical is better. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just grab some paper and something to write with. (I used my journal.) To take it to the next level, consider buying some nice stationary.
- Create Space. Set aside some time and find a location where you feel at ease. Maybe treat yourself to your favorite beverage, or consider throwing on some mood music. I went to a coffee shop with outdoor seating and sipped on a cold-brew.
- Make It Official. At the top of the page, write the current date and your location – just like they did in the old days. Then start your letter the same way you would any other letter, with “Dear [your name]” or just, “[your name].”
- Write. After that, let the words flow! Don’t judge what’s coming out, just allow the pen to move across the page. If nervous or weird feelings come up, smile, breathe, laugh at them, and keep writing.
- Sign. It’s a letter! Gotta sign it. :)
- Store for Safekeeping and Revisit. After a few days, pull out your letter and read it. If you’re feeling inspired, consider actually mailing it to yourself, or taking a picture and scheduling an email to yourself at some point in the future using a service like FutureMe.
“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
One More Thing
If you’ve been enjoying these articles, please consider sharing them using the links below. I put my heart into writing them, and it would mean a lot to know you shared them with someone important to you.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule [↩]