Cards for Love

NEW CARDS! NEW CARDS! NEW CARDS! And the best bit? They’re in the name of LOVE!!!

Sooo, you may be thinking “Oh, Hope Street Cards, what are you doing? Tricking us with so-called ‘Love cards’ one month before Valentine’s Day? You’ve sold out! You’re just like all the others!”

Well, before you go comparing this project of hope and connection to the Beast of Hallmark, hear me out.

Yes, apparently it is the season for valentines. And I do love it when people are in love, but why should we send cards of love and adoration and appreciation only on the 14th February? And why can’t we send a ‘Valentine’ to anyone wonderfully influential in our lives? Be it a partner or a friend or a colleague or a client or a family member or a neighbour?

At their very core, Valentine’s cards are really just notes of gratitude. And in psychology, the concept of gratitude (and letter writing) is widely utilised in therapy and the benefits are continually observed, measured and significantly positive.

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we receive, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives. In the process we usually recognise that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of ourselves. As a result gratitude often helps us to connect to something larger than ourselves – whether to other people or nature or some form of higher power.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve our health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Two psychologists, Dr. Emmons of the University of California, and Dr. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When the week's assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for over a month.

Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual's well-being.

Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

And then there’s the good news that letter writing can improve well-being as well. Kent State professor Stephen Toepfer conducted a study of letter-writing and its resulting benefits. Study participants were asked to write a series of letters, and were told to express heartfelt appreciation as they wrote. Nothing silly or trivial, but real authentic thoughts.

The participants actually experienced an increase in overall well-being; their self-rated levels of happiness and life satisfaction climbed upwards throughout the duration of the study.

Toepfer could conclude that by writing three letters a week, and spending 15 to 20 minutes on each letter, people’s depressive symptoms can decrease quite significantly and their happiness and life satisfaction can increase.

Letter writing is a really good therapeutic tool also. It’s something I have dished out to clients in the past. And it’s an activity that’s been set for me as the client.

Psychologists have long trusted letter-writing as an effective way to effectively sort through and deal with their emotions, especially negative ones directed at another person. By spending time to write a handwritten letter, writers can confront their unresolved feelings or fears.

And if you need any more reasons to fall in love with our love cards, did you know that there’s heaps of people out there that aren’t even getting mail! A survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that one out of every five children in the UK has never gotten a letter via snail mail. Never! That, my friends, is a travesty. And 43% of the same group surveyed (1,200 children aged seven to 14) had never even sent a letter. A child education expert, Sue Palmer remarked that children who do not send or receive letters “miss out on key developmental benefits.”

Notes of love or gratitude or appreciation do wonders in keeping our connections and relationships strong. Sending some mail, is surely the next best thing to showing up personally at someone’s door. There’s a deep feeling of emotional connection between the sender and receiver that strengthens bonds and increases perceived closeness.

So, I reckon let’s get involved in appreciating love. But not just on February 14. Every day.

To help us along with this, for the next 4 weeks Hope Street Cards will be blogging about all things love and relationships.

And if by chance Hallmark comes knocking at my door in 5 years' time with a million dollar offer it will also look like I’ve tried to cash in on a holiday that only seems to exist to make them richer. Surely that will help in negotiating a better deal - so, everybody wins!

You can check out all our love cards right here.

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