Postcards produce such a rippling effect of joy in the sender and the receiver.
With approximately 97 percent of Americans texting at least once a week and the average household receiving only one personal letter every seven weeks in 2010, according to the US Postal Service’s annual survey, down from once every two weeks in 1987, the arrival of a beautiful, hand-written postcard is reason to rejoice.
Last summer, my family and I were lucky to see bears and their cubs, more than 100 bison and elks in Yellowstone during our two-week trip in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, but no wolves, which is why I picked out the above postcard to send to my friend Kristie. We spent three days exploring the geysers, the less-traveled paths, the Mammoth hot springs, the canyon, and all the beautiful waterfalls tumbling and thundering down the steep cliffs. We packed our visit with good memories and were at home in nature, as the postcard says, but our daughter kept reminding us that we still needed to see a wolf and a moose to complete the animal display. As if they were a scheduled attraction or a theatrical performance for tourists like us. When in reality, we were mere intruders in their natural habitat, where they howled around as they pleased.
What postcards used to do for me
I was born and raised in communist Romania in the 70s. In the 80s, we still had no landline phone in our household till I was 12 years old. We used to leave notes on the refrigerator or sent messages to our families through our friends and neighbors.
Since I had no technology to distract myself and only limited TV channels, I became a writer when I was 12 years old and read more than 100 books a year, which included most of the classics. I also used to love going to summer and winter camps organized by my school. The best method to communicate with my family was through postcards, as most often I did not find a working phone booth to call them.
I still remember my seventh-grade summer camp that was held in a small and picturesque village close to my hometown Lugoj. We did a big running race that I came out in third place with no training of any kind, and I succeeded in taking my handball team all the way to the final. After the match, one of the coaches wanted to recruit me to train for the national team, but my dad told him that education was more important than sports in my family, and that was the end of my handball journey to fame.
Camps were about seven to 10 days long. As soon as I had settled in, I would hunt for a souvenir shop to buy postcards for friends and family. I bought them, wrote them by hand, and mailed them, mainly as a way to let them know that I had arrived safely and was having fun at camp.
I particularly enjoyed selecting the postcards, after which I decided which one to send to my parents, grandparents, and friends. For instance, I intended to send the most unique and beautiful postcards to my grandmother, whom I loved dearly. She was a teacher, always praising my writing, reading, and my good grades at school. The joy of picking out and writing my postcards was as indelible as walking through the immersive art galleries of the Metropolitan Museum for the first time. It made me appreciate the new place I was visiting even more. And, yeah! It taught me more about geography.
Postcards generate inimitable joy in both the sender and receiver, which is hard to replicate by pictures posted on social media for two reasons:
1. The act of sending postcards is active.
2. It requires interacting with the outside world — from the store clerk, to the postal office clerk, to our loved ones, who get to touch and feel the edges of time through the picture of the place that we had explored physically, geographically, and emotionally.
What postcards should do for us and our children in our fast-moving technology world today and in the future.
A small act of kindness, such as sending a postcard, ignited joy and creativity in my friend Kristie Gong, Research Director at Hearst Television, which showed me that I was not old-fashioned and from the “old times,” as my sweet teenager kids like to tease me. Or maybe I was…
Thus, the three ways to increase happiness through postcards, according to my friend Kristie, who started a summer postcard challenge right after I returned from my trip at the end of June, are:
- Increasing our knowledge of geography, or what I like to call the geography of bliss, which is the title of a great book by Eric Weiner, analyzing happiness all around the world. I absolutely love this one, as I can imagine myself jumping on the internet and doing research about the place depicted in the postcard, and even planning my next trip to a new place, getting my explorer’s hat on.
- Improving our penmanship and the memorable effect on others, as we already know handwritten notes are becoming as extinct as the toy dinosaurs Kristie’s son loves to play with. Also according to John Coleman, author of Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever, “it may seem nostalgic, but I still believe there’s room for the handwritten note in personal and professional communication. They cost something, mean something, and have permanence in a way emails and text messages don’t. They let the people in our lives know we appreciate them enough to do something as archaic as pausing for 15 minutes to put pen to paper in an attempt to connect and sustain a relationship with them.”
- Recovering the lost art of snail mail. We know it is not as convenient and easy as texting or emailing. But there is surprise and joy to receive something else other than commercials and bills.
To sum things up, we should strive to revive the lost art of postcards by being good role models, teaching our kids to send them, as well as creating a summer postcard challenge, as my friend Kristie has started in Sacramento with friends and family. By sending more postcards, we are not only sharing our unique travel adventures with others, but we are also living life with more joie de vivre. And whether traveling to an exotic destination, or just an hour away from home, remember to mail your carefully selected postcards — and watch your geography of bliss expand over mountains and seas.