You might be aware of the mental health benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. But there’s also another, bite-sized practice that you can take up to improve your wellbeing: writing a self-compassion letter.
According to Kristin Neff, an associate professor in human development at the University of Texas at Austin, writing a self-compassion letter can go a long way towards increasing happiness and stabilizing mood.
A “bite-sized recipe” to increase happiness.
As Neff explains, there are three main components of self-compassion: mindfulness, kindness, and a sense of common humanity. By incorporating these components into your day-to-day life, you can significantly improve your wellness — something that’s also been backed by research.
A 2010 study, for instance, asked participants to write a letter to themselves (a paragraph of mindfulness, a paragraph of common humanity, and a paragraph of kind words) once a day for a total of seven days. The subjects then reported a significant decrease in depression for three months and a boost in happiness for six months.
“[It’s] something as little as writing a letter to yourself,” Neff adds. “Self-compassion is really a mindset. And once you cultivate that mindset, things immediately start to shift.” As shown by the study findings above, those positive shifts can last for quite some time.
How to write a self-compassion letter.
Now that you’re on board with the science, how do you write a self-compassion letter? Essentially, it all comes down to the three components:
Mindfulness: “You become aware of the fact that you’re struggling. You kind of validate your difficulty in the moment,” Neff tells MindBodyGreen. Don’t sweep the pain under the rug and pretend it’s not there — the key to mindfulness is to acknowledge your discomfort. This is something to keep in mind when writing your compassion letter: Embrace every emotion you’re feeling without judgment.
Common humanity: While valuing your pain is helpful, be wary not to tip into a self-pity mindset. One way to avoid that is to find a sense of humanity, which involves acknowledging that life is difficult for everyone and no one is perfect. This, in turn, creates a sense of connectedness and relatedness.
Kindness: As a final step, end the letter with kind words to yourself: “Something that you might say to a good friend you cared about,” says Neff. “Just be tender, warm, and supportive toward [yourself]. It allows you to hold difficult, painful emotions without being overwhelmed in the moment.”
Additional resources: The Journal of Positive Psychology — The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises for individuals vulnerable to depression