By Kathy Penner
“Please Mister Postman, look and see. Is there a letter, a letter for me?”*
Remember when an envelope with your name handwritten on the front meant a friend, relative or sweetheart had written you a letter? You’d smile at the familiar script and savour every word—usually more than once.
Now, modern technology allows us to connect instantly with family and friends, so we communicate more frequently. But quantity isn’t everything, and as letter writing falls by the wayside, there’s a certain quality in what we express to each other—a layering of depth and nuance—that has become a casualty of convenience.
The good news is that with recent research revealing benefits from both writing and reading personal letters, some people may feel inspired to return to handwritten correspondence—at least occasionally. And, paper and pens are still available everywhere!
A 2012 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies examined the effects of writing letters on life satisfaction. Author Steven Toepfer discovered that letter-writing had a positive cumulative effect, noting, “If you write over time you’ll feel happier, and if you’re suffering from depressive symptoms, [they] will decrease.”
Handwriting a letter can also aid memory. A study by Professor Anne Mangen from University of Stavanger in Norway found that putting pen to paper imprints knowledge in the brain far more than using a computer.
U.K. psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman says “[senders of] handwritten letters are more emotionally engaged than those created digitally, so if the desired outcome is to communicate on a personal, human level, then … this method is more successful.” And, she adds, the effect of doing it just once can last for weeks.
So, take a few minutes to write to someone—even a brief hello or note of appreciation. Let your mom know how you’re doing or send someone a love letter. Both you and the recipient will benefit.
* Quote from the 1961 song, “Please Mr. Postman” by G. Dobbins, W. Garrett, F. Gorman, B. Holland & R. Bateman.