There are different components to a legacy letter. I have observed that one component, which can enrich spirit and healing, is expressions of gratitude. Just before hitting the road for my family’s Thanksgiving festivities, I came across intriguing research about gratitude and health that support my observation.

Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, conducted research on how gratitude impacts heart health. He studied men and women with an average age 66 who had heart damage. The research found that more grateful people were less depressed, slept better, and had more energy and better overall heart health. When Mills did blood tests to measure inflammation, the body’s natural response to injury or plaque buildup in the arteries, he found lower levels among those who were grateful.

Mills conducted a follow-up study to look more closely at gratitude and heart health. He tested patients for heart disease and asked half of the patients to keep a gratitude journal. After two months, Mills retested all his patients and found health benefits for the patients who wrote in their gratitude journals. Inflammation levels were reduced, and heart rhythm improved. When he compared their heart disease risk before and after journal writing, there was a decrease in risk after just two months of writing in their journals. Mills isn’t sure exactly how gratitude and writing helps the heart, but he thinks it’s because it reduces stress, a major factor in heart disease.

So as we propel and prepare for Thanksgiving, remember, writing expressions of gratitude may help you cope with holiday stress and make your heart grow stronger. Sharing what you wrote in a legacy letter can add to these health benefits and make your relationships stronger too. I wish you all a healthy Thanksgiving. And don’t forget to put down your cell phones and share your stories! Leah

Note: For those of you who live in South Florida or have loved ones down here, I am starting a legacy letter writing class. More information about the class is at