At AoM we’re great champions of the lost art of letter writing. Emails, texting, and the wide variety of other digital mediums available to us in the modern age are convenient and efficient, but they can’t hold a candle to the warm, tangible, classy nature of handwritten correspondence. Letters are the next best thing to showing up personally at someone’s door.
Of course, snail mail doesn’t need to replace our digital messaging — it’s just a satisfying activity (and even hobby, if you’d like) to take part in from time to time. It’s nice to have a pen pal or two you correspond with through real letters; being able to open the mailbox and find an envelope addressed to you is a true delight.
Beyond basic correspondence, there are 7 types of letters I suggest every man write at least once before they turn 70. Each kind of letter described below covers a different part of the human experience, and provides a benefit to both the writer and the recipient (though you don’t have to send them all). The former gets to participate in the exercise of putting words to feelings, a process that can hone gratitude, humility, and perspective on life. The latter gets to open an envelope filled with comfort and encouragement. It’s win-win.
With most of these types of letters, doing it once is definitely just the minimum goal. Making their writing a regular habit will keep the benefits flowing to you and the lucky recipients of your notes – until you’re 70 and beyond.
1. A Letter of Congratulations
The personal pride one feels from reaching a goal is certainly satisfying. But having others recognize the accomplishment definitely makes it all the sweeter. We want others to see in us, what we see in ourselves.
Acknowledging the milestones of others with a letter of congratulations warms the heart of the recipient, and helps keep us humble as well. Watching for and describing the achievements of those around us not only serves as an antidote to narcissism, but inspires us to keep striving for our own goals.
Congratulatory notes can strengthen both personal and professional relationships, and regularly sending them to loved ones and colleagues is a great idea. But you should also consider occasionally writing a longer letter of congratulations when someone close to you reaches an important milestone, makes a particularly positive decision, or achieves a goal that leaves you especially impressed. Such a letter provides both the writer and the recipient the opportunity to reflect on how far they’ve come, the setbacks they’ve surmounted, and the positive attributes that helped them reach their goal and will continue to serve them well in the future. Maybe your brother just joined the Marines. Maybe your friend set a new record in the 400-meter dash. Maybe your daughter is about to become the first person in your family to graduate college. Let them know that you’re proud of them – that you see them.
2. A Letter to Your Father
No figure looms larger in a man’s psyche than his father. For better and for worse, our dads are our first models for manhood.
Every boy hopes for the “perfect dad.” Our fathers sometimes fall so short of this model that we ache in disappointment for what might have been. Or they may be so close to the ideal that we worry we’ll never live up to the example they set. Either way, our relationship with our father shaped us as no other, and our feelings about that relationship run deep, whether we can even acknowledge them or not.
Most of us have never taken the time to really thank our dads for everything they’ve done for us, or on the flip side, fully faced the painful realization of how much they’ve hurt us. Yet if we don’t understand how we feel about our dads, we can’t understand how they shaped us, and we can’t understand ourselves and why we turned out the way we did.
Writing a letter to your father is an excellent way to reflect on these questions. You don’t have to send this letter if you don’t want to – it can be an exercise you do just for yourself. The purpose is simply to articulate, and thus better understand, your feelings about your dad.
3. A Letter of Condolence/Sympathy
Of all the letters you will write during your life, the sympathy note is arguably the hardest to pen. It can be very difficult to find the right words, or any words really, to say. We worry about saying the wrong thing, or we feel awkward talking about such a serious matter. It’s thus often tempting not to dabble in this correspondence category at all. We tell ourselves that the grieving person knows we love and support them anyway.
And they probably do. But everyone would rather hear it from you themselves. They want a tangible reminder that you are thinking about them during their hard time. Your words can bring a brief, but very real moment of comfort. I can tell you that it really does mean a lot when someone takes the time to say, “I know you’re in pain and I hurt that you’re hurting.”
The sympathy letter is not only one of the hardest on this list to write, it’s one you should work the hardest to make a recurring habit rather than a one-time event. Whenever a friend or loved one loses someone close to them, take the time to pen them a note. Whether you live close to the person or far away, whether you knew the person they lost well or not at all, make it a priority.