Brian Underwood: Adopting a stationery mindset
December 26, 2018
Best gift ever?
I'm guessing you probably went right to Christmas, huh? With all the hustle and bustle right now, that makes sense. And, in purity, the reason for the season is the best gift ever.
For the moment, though, I'm actually tracking in a more secular direction. Allow me to reframe the question.
What's the most heartwarming thing you've ever received? You might still be headed toward a present, and given all the value of sentimental gifts, family keepsakes, etc., that makes perfect sense. But you might be forgetting something else you have that means a lot to you.
For me, the most memorable gifts I've ever received have been good old fashioned handwritten notes. Now, I'll admit this is the perspective of one who's longer in the tooth than he used to be, and it wouldn't have been the answer of a younger version of myself. But that was then, and this is now.
What makes a handwritten note special to me is it takes time and thought — and a lot more of each these days when you consider how prone we are to texting, Facetiming, emailing, calling, and every other "ing" that equals expedience. But when you reflect on your memories and look back on the seminal moments in life, do you really want to look at a printed email?
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One of my greatest treasures is a hand-carved box that was given to me this year, for the purpose of storing notes. Now, for all intent and purpose, I'm a minimalist. I value order and efficiency, which means I'm not wild about lots of extraneous things hanging around — except cards and letters, and I've squirreled a lot of them away over the years.
I've old notes from my parents, my uncle, my wife and daughters, students, former players, co-workers, bosses I've had, parents I've worked with, and many others. They constitute my "feel good file," which I believe everyone should have for those tough days, weeks, and seasons life brings.
Every time I look at the box, not necessarily in it, I'm reminded how blessed I am by those who took time to write. And I guess that's the point of all this. The time we take to handwrite a card or letter to someone becomes a blessing to them, and you never know when the perfectly placed word can make a huge difference in someone's life.
Now, clearly, handwriting is certainly a lost art, and printing isn't far behind. However, what they symbolize in conveying sentiment remains important. Parents and grandparents would do well to remind their children and grandchildren of the enormous blessings notes offer on a personal level, as well as the level of professionalism they communicate when written in that vein.
Last year, Forbes magazine ran an excellent article on this topic that bears summarizing. Author Nancy Olson (Jan. 17, 2017) outlined several values of writing notes, which offered the ethical, personal, and professional merits of doing so.
She first expressed it's the right thing to do. A specific citation she made was taken from a book written by Margaret Shepherd in The Art of the Handwritten Note. In reminding readers of the relatively little effort it takes to show gratitude by writing a note, she counsels "Your thank-you note should capture the smile, handshake or hug you would give the reader in person." Enter the heartwarming nature of notes.
The next point she makes is, I believe, is a difference-maker for anyone caring to be genuine, and unique. Quite simply, cards, notes, and letters set one apart. Think about it for a minute. How many handwritten communications have come your way recently?
You receive hundreds of email, but beyond the work and event-related communication you receive, much of the rest is artificially generated. And how does even the most personalized email make you feel in comparison the well-written handwritten note you read at the end of a long day?
In the professional world, it seems rare executives and managers take the time to draft notes, and yet, making that time can make all the difference in the objective behind them.
Olson goes on to quote Heather Wiese, owner of Bell'Invito, a luxury stationer in Dallas, who told Guy Trebay of The New York Times, "If you want to stand out, to be more polished, probably the easiest thing you can do is write that thank-you note."
Wiese goes on to stress the importance of a note, particularly in the employment arena. "Social media, texting and email are all completely relevant. But if after I've put my effort forward to interview a potential employee what I get is an email that looks exactly like 200 others, I may miss it," she says.
And would you believe it, there's actually benefit to the author of a handwritten note. Olson cites an article written by Dr. Christian Jarrett, in the Science of Us, who referenced a brain-scanning study that suggests "even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people's brains are still wired to feel extra thankful.
"The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits."
So, as we head through the holidays, consider a new New Year's resolution. Once you get past that first visit to the gym, or walk around the block, and you realize it's been a couple of weeks since that lone step toward a healthier year, contemplate exercising a new muscle – your gratitude muscle. Stop being stationary, pick up some stationery, and make someone's day.
Etiquette experts say you've got 30 days to thank Uncle Everett for the homemade ashtray he gave you for Christmas. So, use your new-found resolve to convey gratitude by writing Uncle E a handwritten thank-you note to let him know how….unique his gift is, and to share how you'll always think of him when looking at it. It'll make his day.
I have it on good authority the Big Guy up north still has some room in his sleigh, and he's still taking requests. So, shoot him a note (OK, it may have to be email because of time constraints) and ask him for some special note cards. That pack of cards with your initials on it, or the set reflecting some sort of bucolic setting, will contain the potential to change someone's day.
It may be the best gift they ever receive.
Brian Underwood is the director of school development at Sierra Lutheran High School.