According to the author of “5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts,” Gary Chapman, there are unique sets of “love languages”: gifts, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, and words of affirmation. They’re the language we speak when we receive – and give – affection. I learned when I took the quiz that my primary love language is words of affirmation. I love making people feel loved by saying words that strengthen and commend, by sharing thoughts that might otherwise go unsaid. I feel seen and loved when people do the same for me.
The thing about spoken words is that our memories often fade over time. Text messages and other typed words are a step up because there is more longevity. I keep a folder on my desktop called “Rainy Day” that’s full of screenshots of sweet things that people have said to me over time. I look at it whenever I am experiencing doubt, heartache, and hard times. What’s even more tangible, though, is letters. When I’ve had my own apartment, I’ve taped my favorites to my wall as reminders of the abundant love that I have in my life. They remind me that even in the moments when I feel desperately alone, I am surrounded by love.
I’ve lovingly kept letters people have written to me since I was 15. In them, I have notes from my late grandparents, friends past and current, and family members. This last winter, I decided to write letters myself. It was the perfect time to: I was facing major and exciting transitions. I would not have gotten as far as I have in life without the help and love of my communities, and it is an isolating and hilarious thought to think that I could have done it without them. So, I decided to thank people.
I thought I’d have about 30 letters to write, a very manageable number.
My list of people who have loved me, believed in me, and positively affected my life’s trajectory grew to over 200 people. I’m still writing letters from that first batch. But I’m also keeping as up-to-date as I can. When someone goes out of the way for me, I try to thank them. When someone gets terrible news, I try to share my solidarity with them. When someone reaches an amazing milestone, I try to multiply their joys by joining in with them. I now have multiple pen pals, friends who I otherwise would have just texted. Now, I get details of their lives in pen and paper.
It’s been one of the best habits I’ve ever started, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. Plus, what would stationary companies and the Post Office do without my contributions? Thanks for the cute and inexpensive card boxes, TJ Maxx and Marshalls! Also, thanks for the sometimes-amazing stamps, USPS. I especially love the holographic dinosaurs.
There are definitely times when I write more than others. I sometimes go weeks without writing. Instead I have an ever-increasing list of people to write. I don’t always feel like reaching out to others, especially when I’m depressed or if I’m going through a flare-up of my chronic illnesses and feeling extra fatigued. But when I do, my gratitude builds and so does my joy. Practicing gratitude has health benefits and in this case, the practice is something the recipient of your letter can keep and be made joyful by again and again. Showing that you’re paying attention to your friends’ and family members’ joys and sorrows strengthens relationships. Sitting and thinking about who has affected you in the past affects you now.
I look at the world differently and am a different friend and family member than I was, thanks to the number of times I have written “thank you” or “I love you” or “I’m with you.” It’s one of my favorite spiritual disciplines now. Next time you’re feeling especially grateful, I suggest you pick up a pen and share your gratitude with someone rather than letting it go unsaid. You might be surprised by how beautiful it feels.