December 12, 2017

|Jenny Cole

Remember receiving these??

“What a busy year it’s been in the Blogs household. This year one of my little darlings won the school talent quest, broke an arm and developed a cure for cancer. Her brother tried several new sports being fairest and best in all of them and we are proud to say that he is  solely responsible for his teachers unfortunate mental health issues. Bruce continues to work long hours, travel and shirk any responsibility for household chores. I love my part time job, volunteering in the canteen and I still find time to do yoga on Thursdays.”

Grooooannnnnnnn…

And they were accompanied by the obligatory corny family photo…

In the days before Facebook – this was how we communicated with far flung family and friends. This was our annual opportunity to brag about our achievements and grizzle about how time poor we were. It simultaneously liberated the sender from the guilt of not contacting Aunty Betty for a whole year AND gave them complete permission to be terribly boastful.

These letters were our chance to wrap up all the messy shit of the previous twelve months, with shiny paper and a big fat bow, and gift the world with our perfect lives.

Social media now gives us the medium to do that every day, in every way, with filters and Photoshop. From first breath to final gasp, from weddings, bah mitzvahs and piss-ups, graduations, proposals and pets – it’s all there. Bridal shower, baby shower, first breath, first month, first birthday, first Christmas, first bowel motion, it’s all posted for the world to see. No surprises here – just carefully created and curated content, sieved and selected. Ready to be liked, shared and commented.

Facebook even takes all our posts from the last twelve months, combines them in it’s random memory generator and spits them out for you to share. The online equivalent of taking all the messy shit of our day to day lives and wrapping it in shiny paper with a big fat bow and gifting the world with our perfect lives. There is no longer any need to write to Aunt Betty, she follows you on Facebook, cousin Ingrid on Insta, Sally on Snapchat, Leslie on Linkedin and Terry on Twitter. There is not a job promotion, celebration or cringe worthy moment they don’t already know about – so don’t waste your time.

But do you miss the Christmas letter? Not the generic, clip art encrusted version but one written by hand and with love. As the writer do you miss the opportunity to reflect and give thanks for the 12 months just past, because even though the year may have been challenging there is always much to celebrate. Perhaps you miss the opportunity to sort through your photos to find just the right ones to add to your message, smiling at the memories as you go. As the recipient, are you nostalgic for the anticipation of what the Postie will bring in the weeks pre-Christmas? Opening the envelope and smiling/sighing at the photos therein, sitting quietly to devour the news, sharing the letters with others in your household. Feeling glad that you took the effort to write or to read.

In many ways Christmas newsletters are letters of gratitude and the research on the benefits of gratitude is fairly compelling. Leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions, to see which ones increased happiness and life satisfaction. The assignment to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, resulted in a huge increase in happiness scores for participants. This increase was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for up to a month. The important thing to note is that the letters don’t even have to be delivered to make the writer feel happier. However delivered, letters resulted in increased satisfaction for both the recipient and the sender.

So in the spirit of Christmas – get writing, I look forward to hearing from you, my happiness depends on it.