Speech is silver, writing is golden How writing can comfort us in difficult times
Even if we can’t really travel anywhere at the moment, it’s possible to connect with people in other ways. All we need to do this is paper, something to write with – and penfriends.
It’s the year 2020 we’re talking about, a year in which the pandemic has made us fear for our health and we’ve hardly been able to travel or spend time with family and friends. What’s there to be happy about? What’s there to be grateful for? Gratitude is precisely the thing that can help us when so much seems so bleak and uncertain, researchers have found. Writing a thank you letter can be of even more benefit.
As part of an experiment, two psychologists from the University of Chicago asked students to write and send thank you letters. The idea of the exercise was to get them to think about the opportunities and good fortune they have had in life, and all the people this involved. Next, they would write these people a letter to say thank you. They were then asked about how they felt when they were writing the letter, and how they felt afterwards. The recipients of the letters were also asked the same question. The result? Those involved felt much better after sending the letter than before. At the same time, however, they underestimated the positive effect, i.e. the joy and surprise, that the letter had on the recipient.
It’s the height of mindfulness
Writing, especially by hand, has many other positive effects as well: when we handwrite notes as opposed to typing them, we have an easier time remembering what we wrote. If we write a letter by hand, we have to concentrate. What exactly do we want to write? What order do things need to be in? What’s important? Handwritten messages not only have a positive impact on recipients, they also have a direct impact on our thought process. You just can’t move paragraphs around on a piece of paper in the same way you can on a computer. And so, when it comes to writing, you really are putting your mind to work. At the same time, it is also a wonderful exercise in mindfulness. We focus on the paper, the pen and the message, and on writing in a way that is also clear for the recipient. Anyone who is interested in calligraphy, or who has perhaps studied a different alphabet before, will know the feeling: as you try to copy out the new letters, you end up getting totally immersed, and all you see are the letters and the pen and paper you’re using. It’s the height of mindfulness.
Looking for penfriends
But who can I write to? If there is no-one you could write thank you letters or love letters to, why not consider more traditional penfriends. There are online platforms where you can meet like-minded people. Your initial contact with the person will be online, and soon after the first letters will start arriving. Here’s just a little selection for you:
- Children aged between five and twelve can find friends to write to on minispick.ch [in German] (subcategory “Penfriends”)
- Websites like globalpenfriends.com and penpalworld.com come with a search template you can use to find potential penfriends all over the world. English is the main language used to communicate on these websites. If you go to penpal-gate.net, in addition to age and gender filters, you can also filter your search for penfriends by keywords (e.g. horse-riding, gardening) or by country.
- mylanguageexchange.com brings together penfriends who are looking to meet people and improve their language skills. From Albanian to Zulu.
- If you’d prefer to keep things a bit briefer and you’d like to receive postcard messages from all over the world, postcrossing.com could well be the place for you. For every postcard you send, you will get a response, and it could come from anywhere in the world. It’s a bit like secret Santa, but with postcards instead.
If you have any questions about meeting penfriends, there’s a very helpful Wikihow page on the subject.