We've heard it all before: Create a daily meditation routine, exercise regularly, update your diet to include plenty of Omega-3 foods. These are all wonderful ways to increase quality and length of life. But did you know that the simple act of letter-writing-by hand-is linked to significant mental health benefits? During quarantine, putting pen to paper became a sure-fire way for me to connect with loved ones and increase my happiness. I was not alone: Sonya Matejko, storyteller and founder of @aforceofnuture, sent everyone important to her a card to boost their spirits during that time. She quickly realized there was a potential to help other people find the joy in writing and sending letters of their own. In February 2021, Sonya started hosting the "Dear You" workshop to guide people in their own letter-writing experience.
While letter-writing may seem to be a lost form of art, stats show otherwise. During the initial quarantine period in March 2020, online stationery brand, Papier, noted a 300 percent increase in sales of notecards and writing paper, and the trend has continued into 2021. Gen Z is jumping on the bandwagon too-WGSN, a global authority on consumer and design trends, reports that TikTok's hashtag #penpal has more than 192 million views and penpal communities, such as #Penpalooza have emerged to connect those longing for snail-mail all over the globe.
Given the ubiquity of Zoom calls and excess screen time, this form of "slow communication" is the antithesis of digital communication, and thus a cathartic practice I keep in my personal happiness arsenal. And after hearing from several experts on the science-backed mental health benefits of penning notes by hand, I'm not stopping anytime soon. From increasing mental clarity to fostering relationships, here are five fantastic reasons to shut the laptop and opt to write, stamp and mail a real-life envelope.
Helps Develop a Strong Sense of Accomplishment
Writing a letter is a far more thoughtful way to communicate with someone than engaging in digital communication. "Letter-writing is a contemplative activity rather than a quick chore," explains Gulsaba Khan, a business development specialist at QuillBot. "You can type a text in a matter of seconds without paying attention. Sending letters, on the other hand, takes time and effort." The gesture of spending intentional time creating your letter will leave you with a greater sense of accomplishment than sending an email or text message.
Increases Clarity and Gives Us a New Perspective
Physically writing out the ideas in our head helps increase clarity too. "Letter-writing can be a purifying exercise to help you get clarity about how you feel about a situation or someone, release negative feelings or thoughts and meaningfully prepare for a conversation with a loved one," says Lunide Louis, Ph.D., a habit psychologist and founder and host of the Best Morning Routine, Ever! podcast.
"When we think about an idea or concept, we can get stuck looking at it one way," says Erin Miers, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and psychology consultant for Mom Loves Best, shares. "When we actually put pen to paper, a different part of our brain begins to examine the idea, opening new doors. The repetitive nature of writing gives us the option to focus on what we are writing or on the process and physicality of the act of writing. By moving between both, we work on different aspects of our brain, which can help our brain explore different aspects of the idea we are writing about."
Fosters Connections and Deepens Relationships
"Letter-writing is tied to our hearts through our inherent drive for social bonds," says Janine Ilsley, LMSW of Cobb Psychotherapy in New York City, with studies proving it brings us closer together. The letter recipient will sincerely feel special and appreciate the thoughtful effort invested into physically writing, addressing and mailing a letter. "This sends the message to the recipients that they are important to you," says Emilie Dulles, the owner of Dulles Designs. Furthermore, "writing a letter to a loved one is a wonderful way to convey meanings that can feel intangible," adds Louis. "The words you choose-especially words that carry a particular weight-leave a lasting impression. People remember how you made them feel.
Creates Serendipity-and Joy-for the Sender and Receiver
When somebody receives a letter, it's a moment of serendipity. Even your own anticipation of your letter arriving in the mail for your recipient will boost your happiness. "Letter-writing nurtures a platform for creativity with compassion-and like compassion, it's not only good for the recipient, but also for ourselves. It's a compassionate connection," Ilsley says.
"By reaching out to others rather than just writing for oneself, a person has the opportunity to enter into exchanges that can bolster mental health-and as an added benefit, one can boost the mental health of another person," says Michael Mazius, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of the North Shore Center in Wisconsin.
Gratitude Letters Have a Direct Correlation to Happiness
In positive psychology research, gratitude letter-writing-the timeless thank-you note-has been linked to greater contentment. One of the major factors for happiness is participating in happiness-relevant activities, including the practice of writing letters of thanks. "When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, our 'feel good' chemicals," explains Arien Conner, a licensed clinical social worker at Clearpath Counseling LLC in Virginia. "The more we focus on what we're grateful for, [the more it] directly affects our life satisfaction," adds Kristie Opaleski, a certified social emotional learning specialist.
Inspired to write letters more regularly? Follow these helpful tips.
Always have stamps handy and buy your own stationery. Dulles says, "The secret is to have your own sets of custom, printed stationery, either as letterhead or notecards, with custom printed envelopes with your return address. The feeling of getting a letter in return is often twice as special."
Stay Consistent. Just like yoga and meditation, make letter-writing a practice. As with any habit, it takes repetition and, as such, it is essential to cultivate a time and space to nourish this seed of compassion," says Ilsley.
Start a tradition. For example, every year, Sherry Richert Belul, founder of Simply Celebrate, writes the same number of letters as the age she's turning. Belul used to get sad around her birthday, but then had the brilliant idea to write letters to strangers. She shared, "Writing these 'love letters' instantly made me feel like I was connected to the person I was writing to and most of all, I felt connected to my heart. Taking the focus off of me made my birthdays feel so special."
Send Missives Into the Future. In his forthcoming book, Stupid Things I Won't Do When I Get Old (on-sale June 29, 2021) award-winning author Steven Petrow has a full chapter on the power of letter-writing, specifically writing letters to your loved ones to be read posthumously. He shares with us that, "Sending missives into the future, telling your loved ones how you feel about them, or writing letters to be read on the dates of specific milestones (graduation, marriage, baby) is one of the most precious things you can give, and also serves to keep memories alive if [someone has] passed on."