A Note on Handwritten Letters

Garrett MacLean
Mar 25 · 7 min read

“I am now cruising along on a perpetual cycle of feeling good, really good.”


I hop on my motorbike to drive from Binh Thanh down to District 1. There, I park at one of my favorite cafes in Ho Chi Minh City: Vietcetera Cafe. I order a medium, hot Americano, and while waiting for the barista, I peruse the impeccable display of cards that decorate the pearl white, rotating birdcage displayed in the street side window. I choose a card to my liking and bring it to the counter to combine with my purchase. 50,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong) for a warm cup of coffee and a blank card (25,000 VND for each, coming to a grand total of $2.16).

I rendezvous upstairs, plop down on one of the open seats and spend the next hour on my laptop crafting a letter. I do my best to reminisce on past memories and think about an attribute or quote by the person that I admire. I use spell check to ensure grammatical accuracy, pull out my pen, and began to transcribe the message onto paper. I make an honest attempt to make my handwriting legible so it’s well received.

I close my laptop, finish my coffee, gather my things, hop back on my bike, and make my way to the breathtaking Saigon Central Post Office. I park my bike out front and scurry up the front steps to find the stamp counter. 16,000 VND ($0.69) is the price of a stamp to the US. I then drop it in the crate behind the counter, scamper back down the stairs, speed past the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica across the street, and return to my apartment.

I am on cloud nine. I feel good about writing the letter, but more importantly, I feel good because I know the recipient will feel even more special. In a short time, the letter arrives on their doorstep, they open it up and read it.

Final results: they feel great, message me with gratitude, positive emotions are rekindled, my desire to write another letter ignites, and I am now cruising along on a perpetual cycle of feeling good, really good.

Every holiday season and, or birthday month, without a doubt, I knew I would be receiving handwritten letters from my family. Over the years, this resulted in becoming desensitized to how truly amazing it is for another human being to sincerely craft a personal message tailored to you.

In many people’s heedless, electrically charged, media content driven lives, we have grown unaware of how much intent is allocated and invested in a handwritten letter. We have settled for a perfunctory glance at the note inside, anxiously waiting to see what money falls out.

Think about it,

…One has to first, abruptly stop what they are doing in their own life.

…One has to accurately remember the specific date of their loved one’s event.

…One has to proactively go to the store to purchase a card and envelope.

…One has to physically sit down in a chair.

…One has to actually find a pen to write with.

…One has to distinctively write a message to that individual.

…One has to willfully drive to the post-office.

…One has to purposely buy a stamp, lick the envelope, and drop it in the mailbox.

…One has to finally, return back home and continue on with their own life.

OR…

One has to simply hit send.

There is no worthy comparison to be made here. It is remarkable how easy it is to choose the latter. The internet has reached full maturity and no longer as a species do we second guess how we choose to stay in contact with each other. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Snapchat. LinkedIn. Email. Text. Click. Send. Mission Accomplished. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

But, why?

Why is it there are things we do related to the past that we so dearly hold on to?

And, there are other things that we let go of without question?

I am curious. So I go to the Google machine.

Major online publishers from all over, the same ones you and I incessantly read on a day-to-day basis, are furnished with articles stressing the importance of why we should still write letters and millions of people read them. Go to the far corners of your social network and take a poll: When’s the last time you wrote a handwritten letter? I am more curious to see your search engine results.

Need the latest and greatest technology? Apple.

Need to contact anyone in the world? Facebook.

Need a ride almost anywhere? Uber.

Need something mindlessly entertaining to watch right now? Netflix.

Need practically anything delivered to your doorstep in 48 hours? Amazon.

Need to know anything about anything, ever? Google.

We live in a global economy that operates at the whims of large corporations who provide all of the amazing amenities that we have evolved to cherish. I’ll be the first to tell you, it is awesome. I love the fact that I have the privilege of being an inhabitant of this Earth in this era.

All of this awesomeness is astounding. It truly is. If you want to become an entrepreneur today there are more opportunities and resources at your disposal, than all other previous generations combined. I cannot stress it enough; I am grateful to be alive right now.

The people of our planet have experienced a world-wide social catenation that has brought us to an inflection point with no return in sight; and yet, we can’t find a couple of minutes out of our day to write a letter to express our love and appreciation to the most important people in our lives.

In 2019, I challenged myself to be uncommon in this area of my life. I asked myself, “Who are the most important people to me?” Undoubtedly, I answered to my mirror’s reflection, “My family.” As a result, I decided I was going to write a handwritten letter for the birthdays of my beloved ones. Let me tell ya, the feel-good cycle really works.

I loved this feeling and craved more of it, however, I knew I had to be realistic. It would be close to impossible to write a handwritten letter to every single person you love, respect, and care about for every single holiday, birthday, and major life event. So, to utilize the technology world around us start with a smaller challenge: send some love, to somewhere, for someone every day.

Maybe on Facebook, “Hope you’re having a great day!” Maybe on LinkedIn, “Saw you got a new job in a new city. Congratulations!” Maybe a quick text, “Was listening to this podcast or reading this book, and I thought of you, in particular, might enjoy it. Let me know what you think.

If you stopped reading in this very moment, you could accomplish all three of those in a matter of a few minutes and initiate your own feel-good cycle within your own social network. Try it!

Beyond the significance of personal messages, whether hand-written or electronic, I want to offer a personal opinion on the whole topic: If you conduct these acts with zero expectation of receiving anything back, you’re winning. If you do so and leave your hand out for something in return, you’re losing.

If you land a new job or buy a new pair of shoes, turn around, and compliment someone else on their new job or pair of shoes, solely with the internal goal of them noticing your endeavors, you’re losing, big time. Instead, watch how powerful the ripples you can create around you choosing the former.

Dale Carnegie is known to most as the famous life coach and author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” In one of the first chapters, ‘Do This and You’ll Be Welcome Anywhere,’ he states one of his most important principles when dealing with others, “Become genuinely interested in other people.” Simple and to that point.

Nice job, Dale.

He also features Alfred Adler, the famous Viennese psychologist and author of “What Life Should Mean to You,” who candidly tells the reader what happens if you’re actions are not genuine,

“It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.”

Nailed it, Alfred.

Even if it’s not a loved one and it’s a complete stranger, challenge yourself to bring to light something genuinely interesting about them. Maybe that stranger goes home and kisses their wife the second she walks in the door. Maybe that stranger sticks around a few extra minutes to help their child with an extra math problem. Maybe that kid, who now understands the subject better can help another student at school and they become friends. Now, maybe, just maybe, there’s one less kid to sit alone at the lunch table. Who knows? what kind of impact that can have on a young kid’s life. I’ll conclude with this: Do not, I repeat, do not underestimate the power you have inside you already, to lift up and illuminate the worlds of others.

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Garrett MacLean

Written by

San Diego Native. Colorado Buff. Teacher in Ho Chi Minh City.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

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