November 19, 2019

Stamp of Approval: Why People Still Love Getting Mail

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“I've always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.”
― Robert Michael Pyle

The holiday season provides an annual reminder of the enduring power of mail — physical mail, not the kind with an e in front of it.

I’m not talking about packages, either, even though many Americans are on a first-name basis with their delivery drivers by the middle of December. Thanks to Amazon, getting goods via the mail is no longer a rare treat.

No, I’m talking about getting personal messages the old-fashioned way: in a stamped envelope delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. There really is no other experience quite like it.

Playing Your Cards Right

“I love paper cards. I love the endless stewing involved in picking them out at the store. I love buying holiday stamps at the post office, and I love that 'whoosh' sound the cards make when I drop them into the mail slot.”

— Meghan Daum

With the internet obliterating many longstanding print markets like a raging wildfire, it might surprise you to learn that greeting card revenues rose 3% in 2018. It might further surprise you to learn that younger people drove much of that growth.

In addition to exchanging traditional holiday greetings via the mail, digital natives “are also buying cards for birthdays, for anniversaries and even to congratulate friends on taking medical school exams,” NPR reports. “These are the kind of ‘cardworthy’ events that the Greeting Card Association has noticed are popular among millennials.”

A Noteworthy Effort

“There’s so much love sent through the mail.”
― Sheridan Hay

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a millennial. And while I don’t necessarily categorize events as cardworthy, I do recognize some as noteworthy — literally. Meaning I still like to send personal notes when occasions call for it.

I still like to get them, too. I recently received an unexpected example of how powerful personal correspondence can be when I came across an unopened letter that my dad had sent me in 1988, when I was in college in San Diego.

A quick explanation is in order. The letter was in a business envelope from my parents’ PR firm. I was on their mailing list, so I must have assumed the envelope contained a press release. That’s why I used it as a bookmark in a Doonesbury compendium … where it remained for more than 30 years until I discovered it while unpacking some books last summer.

Such a treat, to receive a time capsule of family news that dated from the days of the Reagan administration. And even though it was typed, not handwritten, it unmistakably had my father’s personal touch. For one thing, he used his Royal typewriter’s red ribbon setting, no doubt to save the black ink for business correspondence. The letter also had handwritten edits and a great signature. Again, reading that letter after all these years was a profound experience.

I know plenty of others who appreciate the power of the personal note, too. A business colleague, Josh Wexler, still gets handwritten notes in the mail from his former basketball coach, Jerry Wainwright, on a weekly basis. Josh has received so many over the years that he’s resorted to storing them in binders.

And Josh is hardly alone. The Wall Street Journal reports that Coach Wainwright “sends about 300 to 500 handwritten notes each week to former players, as well as many coaches and managers.”

Put It in Writing

“My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. And there's something visceral about opening a letter — I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting.”

—Steve Carell

Let’s face it: Sending holiday cards can be a pain. But much of that pain is self-inflicted. You don’t have to stage the perfect holiday-themed family photo for your cards. (Those photos usually come out too red when they’re mass-produced anyway.)

In reality, you don’t need a photo at all. Just get a box of simple holiday cards. Your friends and family will still recognize you through your choice of words and the flow of your handwriting. So don’t overthink it.

Message Received

“I get mail; therefore I am.”

— Scott Adams

Yes, writing holiday cards takes a little time, but any time devoted to sending personal messages through the mail is well spent.

If you doubt that, just stop and think of the little endorphin rush you get each time you receive one.