Well, maybe it’s not the actual letters that extend your lifespan. But did you know that growing and maintaining healthy relationships actually has the greatest influence over your long-term happiness? That’s right, happy relationships can really help you live a life with longevity, and writing letters is just one way to get there and to grow with the people you value most.
The Grant Study, conducted by Harvard researchers starting in 1938, followed the lives of two groups of men for over 75 years and is known as one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. The study collected data about physical and mental health and revealed the influence of relationships on our health and emotional well-being. According to the data, one of the strongest predictors of physical health in older age — even more than cholesterol levels — was a person’s level of satisfaction with their relationships.
“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives,” says Robert Waldinger. “Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.”
It sounds too good to be true, but happy, healthy relationships truly do have a significant impact on our physical and mental health. In fact, Waldinger, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard who was involved in the Grant Study, also gave a TED Talk about these findings, notably saying, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
Well, it means that finding ways to practice self-care as well as ways to nurture the close relationships we have, especially before age 30, is crucial to living a long and happy life. One way to do this is by writing and sending letters to friends, family and anyone else you’re close with.
Not only is writing letters therapeutic to your own mental health, but it’s also a great way to keep in touch with people who you don’t get to see very often. Handwritten letters bring personal connection in a way that’s hard to capture in a text message, and they’re great for picking up conversations right where you left off. The practice of writing the letter can be calming and mindful, making what you say that much more meaningful to the recipient. Sending mail shows the people in your life that you’re thinking about them, even when you’re apart. Besides, who doesn’t love getting mail?
All you really need to get started is some paper, envelopes and postage stamps. You can buy stamps at any post office and usually at most grocery stores, as well as online through the U.S. Postal Service. If you want to personalize your letters, try using cute note cards or stationery like these!
Not sure where to start? That’s okay! It can be hard to get started as a first-time letter writer, but don’t worry. A letter can be anything you want it to be — a couple words of encouragement, a little life update or even just talking about your current favorite shows or about the coffee place you tried last week. The most important part is the thought and intention going into it.
If you’re feeling stuck, try sitting down and just writing about whatever’s on your mind at that moment. After all, the point is that it’s just like a face-to-face conversation you’d have with someone you care about, only it’s written down. There’s no rush and no judgement, so feel free to take your time and be authentic!
So what are you waiting for? Sending snail mail can quite literally help you live longer and live happier. Whether you write a short note to tell someone you’re thinking about them or three full pages, sending mail can grow the relationships that are the most influential in your life.
Have you traded text messages for snail mail? Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, and tell us about your experience!