January 10, 2022
It’s rare these days to receive a personal letter in the mail. Generally, most of us just receive junk mail and credit card offers. Receiving a personal letter or card in the mail can make someone's day or improve their mood, and taking the time to sit and handwrite a letter to someone you care about is beneficial for both the writer and the recipient. It makes us feel good to know that someone is thinking about us, and devoting time and attention to us. Taking a moment to slow down and really focus on writing to someone else is a good practice and good for mental health.
Letter writing also helps you practice more formal language, spelling and grammar, and if you’re a creative writer, it can be turned into a writing exercise. For example, pretend you’re someone else in another life. Maybe you’re an actor in the 1940s, or the captain of a ship, or maybe you’re on the Oregon Trail and your wagon axel just broke. The possibilities are endless.
Letter writing also doesn’t have to be strictly writing on a page, then slapped into an envelope. Letters can also include photographs and drawings, or other personal touches. If you’re not sure what to write or send, postcards are always a good place to start.
Steve Toepfer from Kent State University has studied the effect of writing letters of gratitude on wellbeing and happiness.1
“The more letter writing people did, the more they improved significantly on happiness and life satisfaction. The new and potentially important finding is that depressive symptoms decreased. By writing these letters – 15 to 20 minutes each, once a week for three weeks to different people – well-being increased significantly," Toepfer said.
There are also other ways to remember someone, such as putting together a time capsule or a keepsake box. My Grandmother recently passed away and I received a bundle of letters we had written to one another, and receiving those letters has had a bigger impact on me than receiving an email or a text would have. Sure, some of the letters are benign - simply recapping what we did over the weekend or books we had read recently - while some are emotional sucker punches with shaky handwriting and curled pages. Writing letters can capture a part of someone that you can hold onto for as long as you’re alive. Even after memories fade, you’ll have a small piece of that person and who they were, a piece of themselves they shared with you.
A large part of our history is recorded in letters and we are still learning from them. I think they are an important part of our history and shouldn’t be forgotten. From Abraham Lincoln growing a beard, to insight into the Titanic sinking and letters to the police from Jack the Ripper, we have learned a lot from letters. An interesting book for anyone wanting to read some famous and groundbreaking letters is In Their Own Words: Letters from History by The National Archives.
Be it letters of gratitude, creative writing exercises or a postcard, taking the time to send a letter to someone you care about benefits both people. It helps maintain an important part of our cultural history, strengthens relationships and provides both participants with a tangible memory and keepsake.
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