In my closet, there is a box full of handwritten letters.
I still think fondly on the one from when I was 16 years old and my little sister—then 12—wanted to thank me for taking care of her while she was sick and my mother was away at work. She told me she loved me, accompanied by a doodled pair of red lips, and that I was the best big sister around.
And I’ll never forget the one from when I was 18 years old, heading off to college, and my mother wanted to share the story of my life from her perspective; to tell me how proud she was of the young woman I’d become and would continue to grow into.
Or the one from when I was 29 years old and one of my best friends wanted to share an empowering poem, along with some words of wisdom about the beauty and opportunity to be found in the vulnerability of love. I was exploring the first romantic relationship since my divorce, and her letter meant the world to me.
Every now and then, I sift through this box. I run my fingers across the indentations left by the writer’s pen; I breathe in the scent of another time and place. Oftentimes I am left with a smile; sometimes I cry. The experience is rich with emotion, something technology could never replace.
But the world is changing, and snail mail is struggling to keep up.
Schools have stopped teaching cursive as a practicality; it’s now considered an art form. We have computers and smartphones to communicate and take notes, so most find little need to be able to write by hand. Even I, a lover of this practice, find that the muscles in my hand cramp when I write anything of much length.
While hand letter writing was mostly functional in the beginning, something simple yet significant remains in sharing one’s thoughts, dreams, joys, and struggles with nothing more than pen and paper.
In fact, hand letter writing is good for us.
- It encourages a sense of self. More than seven years ago, Newsweek published an article on the lost art of letter writing. And it seems that the more one writes, the more easily writing and expression itself becomes. Letter writing also encourages a better sense of self as we share our thoughts and emotions with another. According to Newsweek, “No other form of communication yet invented seems to encourage or support that revelatory intimacy.”
- It creates connection. Nobody—not even the most digitally-crazed millennial—could deny the connection and affection felt when they receive a handwritten letter. When we write by hand, our skin touches the paper and, according to a study, our personality is transmitted through our penmanship. A handwritten letter is tangible, it’s our presence on paper. And it’s a wildly inexpensive gesture considering its value.
- It promotes mindfulness. Naturally, writing by hand promotes mindfulness and intentionality. Not only do we write much slower than we type, but the absence of a delete key requires us to be more thoughtful with each stroke of the pen. Writing letters by hand gives us the mental space we need to process our thoughts more easily, to share our feelings more deeply, and to connect with the receiver more purposefully. It’s as if the world around us magically disappears and we envision ourselves conversing with our loved one over a warm cup of tea.
I am forever a believer in the timeless functionality and beauty of hand letter writing. My hope is that reading this will inspire you to buy some elegant stationery (or simply pull out a sheet of printer paper), sit in a comfortable space, and handwrite a letter to someone special.
Not sure what to say? Start by saying hello, and tell them why you appreciate them. The rest will come naturally.