When you go to the mailbox and find a handwritten envelope among the bills and flyers, chances are it’s the thing that will draw your attention. A handwritten card or letter is a rare treat in this time of instant messages, texts and emails.
While being able to Zoom with our family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing, there is still something special about sending and receiving old-school letters and cards.
Yes, sending a text or email takes less time and it gets there in a heartbeat, but an actual card or letter becomes a keepsake, says The Etiquette Guy (Jay Remer from St. Andrews, New Brunswick). People will read a heartfelt card or letter over and over again, prompting a happy memory each time, he says.
Heather Wright agrees. She’s a Kitchener, Ont. author and business communications instructor, and has saved a box full of cards and notes that she received from students and parents. People treasure thank-you cards, she says. “These are things people keep because it reminds them of something they did that made someone else feel good.”
For special occasions — to say thank you, to extend congratulations or express condolences — a card or note instead of an email or text takes it beyond the ordinary, says Wright.
The right card
The card need not be anything fancy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a store-bought card with a pre-written message, says Remer, who generally sends about 30 cards each year.
“Hallmark is the answer if you have a difficult time expressing yourself,” he says. “Keep reading until you find the right card or choose a blank card and craft your own message.”
But remember to keep your recipient in mind when choosing a card, cautions Remer. “Don’t send a lewd card to your prudish elderly aunt,” he says.
If you want to send something a little more unique, you can support local artisans by purchasing handcrafted cards through local gift shops, online craft sales or ETSY.
If you have the time, making your own greeting cards can be very satisfying. You don’t need to be artistic, says Wright. You can use Word, Canvas or other software to make and print a card.
Or if you want to be more hands-on, you’ll find hundreds of ideas for making cards using markers, coloured pencils, paints, paper cutouts, stamps, stickers, photographs and much more on sites like Pinterest.
If you’re sending a longer message and have concerns about your handwriting or grammar, Wright says you shouldn’t hesitate to type the letter on the computer instead of writing it by hand.
However, Remer worries that many people are too critical of themselves today. It can take courage to express yourself, to speak from the heart, he says. “There is often an underlying insecurity. Many of us have been taught to check ourselves. We worry, will others be able to read it? We need to have some self-compassion.”
Those struggling to express themselves may actually find it easier when writing a letter by hand instead of typing it, says Remer. Writing a letter by hand slows the process down and gives us time to think about what we want to say, he explains. This is why it was popular in generations past to write love letters, especially for men who weren’t accustomed to expressing intimate emotions.
We also need to have compassion for the card recipient, continues Remer. “Say what’s on your mind in a kind way. Don’t write it if you wouldn’t want your grandma to read it,” he says, noting, “People are too reckless with others’ feelings.”
If the subject of the card or letter is a sensitive one, write a draft and then leave it for at least 24 hours, says Remer. “You’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and you’ll find it easier,” he says.
The right time
Cards don’t need to be limited to birthdays and Christmas. The recipient will appreciate the time and effort it takes to send a card or letter at any time, says Remer, with one caveat. When it comes to thank-you cards, it’s best to send them right away. By writing it when it’s fresh, it will be easier to capture your feelings of gratitude, he says. “Your voice will come through.”
Remer has some advice for the person receiving the card too. Whether you open the card right away, or save it for later, really take the time to savour it, he says. In his opinion, “Anyone who sends a handwritten note deserves my full attention.”
A gift for the writer
While sending a card might just make someone’s day, the research clearly shows that the sender also gets a happiness boost. “Writing a thank-you letter to express your gratitude or appreciation for someone’s kindness or generosity is a simple act but also one of the most powerful happiness-boosting acts around for recipient and sender,” says Rebecca Byers, a well-being educator from New Dundee, Ont.
Expressing gratitude immerses us in happy memories, and this leads to a more positive mindset, says Byers. “We become more aware of the good things that are happening around us, what is known in Positive Psychology as “upward spirals.”
This effect tends to spill over into other areas of our lives leading to better health, more life satisfaction and stronger social connections.
In fact, the research shows we don’t even have to mail the letter to get the benefits from acknowledging our feelings of thankfulness, continues Byers.
For Charlottetown, P.E.I. author and crafter Julie Watson, sending cards to friends and family has been a way of life since the 77-year-old emigrated from England when she was a little girl. Sending letters and pictures to family back in England was an important way of staying connected, she says, noting that she still rereads the old Christmas letters she received through the years.
Watson has clients who commission her to create personalized cards for them to send. In pre-pandemic times, she also sold her handmade cards at craft sales. It’s a creative hobby that’s fun and brings in a little income, she says.
Her card-making hobby is social too. Watson belongs to a scrapbooking club. Club members seek advice from one another on their individual projects and also make personalized cards for residents in a local long-term care home. “They just love it,” she says.
Locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave, Watson, whose husband died about 18 months ago, made a conscious intention to spend two to three hours a day reaching out to others. She connected through phone calls, emails and letters. “The older people like letters,” she says.
The reconnections she’s made have been a silver lining in a year of pandemic. “It was gratifying to reconnect with so many people,” she says. “I hope that lasts.”
You’ll find a wealth of resources on the internet from videos to help you improve your handwriting or learn calligraphy to written examples of thank-you letters for various situations.