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Lost Letters: Writing Your Way to Happiness

Jessica Tomey contemplates the lost art of letter writing and proposes what it could offer our modern lifestyles.

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Image Credit: congerdesign

Letters. We experience them now as bank statements left unopened, a reminder about your unpaid electricity bill, or the occasional card from your granny. But what-ever happened to good old-fashioned letter writing and what it used to signify?

Letters have been in circulation for thou-sands of years: the creators of civilisation, the Sumerians even had their own form of letter writing, confirming that letter writing is a necessary foundation for human life. In fact,written records enable us to study history today. The Greeks invented the first writing tools: a bone or ivory pen on a wax table. This quickly developed to the invention of Indian ink, commonly used by 1200 BCE. The creation of the alphabet in ancient Greece in 2000BCE, paved the way for centuries of widely loved art. Letter writing in Britain increasingly advanced following the introduction of the postal service in 1660 under Charles II. The invention of the typewriter also sped up the process and heightened the appeal. Yet after centuries of advancements, why is it that letter writing has decreased so dramatically, with Royal Mail predicting an 8 per cent decrease in the number of letters sent in 2019/20?

Letters can act as tactile memories. Talk to your grandparents, or your parents even,and they will reminisce about long, heartfelt letters of devotion from old flames, scraps of notes written by childhood friends, lengthy interchanges from pen pals, sometimes inFrench, or between countries visited on a school exchange.

I remember receiving my first letter. I was about seven at the time, and it was from a girlI had met at a farm shop service station: we had played on the swings together and I remember a strawberry stain on her top. Having no mobile phones at the time, we exchanged addresses, with the exciting thought of becoming pen pals. I sadly lost her address, but I kept the letter she wrote to me for ages: it was written in purple gel pen on a lilac GroovyChic pad. The excitement of waiting to see ifa letter would arrive and the happiness it gave me made me feel special: here was something someone had sat down and taken the time to write, to me!

Is instant communication deteriorating our quality of communication, and therefore the quality of our relationships? We live in a world now where everything is immediate: click instant buy and you’ll get next day delivery of that t-shirt you wanted; tap send and within seconds someone will receive a text that you’ve probably spent a millisecond thinking about. There is something special about the compulsory wait for a letter back:the time letter-writing takes that enhances the value. It means the quality of communication between you and the sender is increased, due to the time and effort taken to sit down and write a letter, which is so different to sending a text or an email during a busy day.

Perhaps we are losing touch with people through the artificial world of communication that is social media. Is scrolling through your friend’s glossy and carefully selected photos of their sunny holiday really keeping in touch? Or is it creating a false impression of their life,when a postcard or letter would have revealed more about how they were feeling at the time and the experiences they had?

My friend and I started writing to each other in 2013, and I discovered that there is such a confidential nature to letter writing,the feeling that you can write anything, thanks to the fluidity of the words; a therapeutic and important process for a strong friendship, in my opinion.

Another magical aspect of a letter is the snapshot of the sender it conceals inside the envelope. A letter can contain so much about someone: individual handwriting can already tell you so much. Is it cursive, printed, roughly scrawled? Are the words carefully printed out in neat, block writing, or is it frantically scribbled across the page in a rush? Letters have acted as the most essential historical documents throughout time. None of this unique individuality and creativity is displayed in a text. Is instant messaging therefore eradicating creativity and individuality from daily life?

There is a lot to be said for the positive feel-ing that letters emulate and the way they improve friendships. Letters give something back.The same warm feeling you get when you see a handwritten letter addressed to you on your doormat, is the same feeling your receiver will experience, resulting in an expression of gratitude on their part.This feeling of gratitude helps bring you closer to other people and friends.

I urge you, instead of sending a quick text, watching a night out snapchat story, or viewing an aesthetically staged coffee on Instagram, pick up a pen and paper and write to someone you’ve been thinking about. Tell them about your day and ask how they’ve been feeling? What were the people on the train this morning wearing? What did you do last time you went away? It can be anything. A letter is not only a lovely thing to receive, but a lovely thing to send. As the author Susan Lendroth explains, “To write is human, to receive a letter: divine!’”

Image credit: congerdesign

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