In the past, etiquette was about class structure and a social code that was filled with requirements. Today, we can embrace etiquette as an overall style of living and make it our own. Perhaps nothing embodies this idea more than the art of sending personal mail. Although personal mail is universally acknowledged as a welcome item to receive, it has lost its place of prominence in our culture of instant communications. Read any historical biography, and you will come to understand the role that letters used to play in everyday life.
As a society, we are very unlikely to return to those days. Along with passionate discourse on a range of topics, letters of the past often included the details of life’s minutia that we can now easily share through conversations and electronic media. The art of personal mail today comes down to one idea: When done well, personal mail allows us the opportunity to become closer to the people in our lives. The art of sending personal mail rests with the theory that your mail should be from you and yet about the person to whom it is addressed. Of course, it will have your personality, but the more you think about the person who will be reading it as you write, the more value it will have to your recipient and your relationship together. Our communications do not need to be long for them to have impact, simply touched with meaning & thought.
Most personal mail naturally falls into one of five categories. The old adage is true: It is the thought that counts. The trick to understanding these categories then, and therefore allowing us all to be more thoughtful, is to think of them from the recipient’s perspective.
A thank you note is perhaps the most popular form of personal mail. Be prompt, be specific, and be gracious. To elevate your notes, think beyond responding simply to gifts. Any act of kindness shown to you personally can be worthy of thanks, as well as any effort put forth that may benefit you. You do not need to overdo your sentiment, showing your appreciation simply will be perceived warmly by your recipient.
This mail is often the most joyous to send! You are helping to honor a choice that someone has made or to toast the good fortune of a loved one. An engagement, a wedding, a new baby, a new home, a graduation…some topics easily come to mind. Many other elements of life are also worth honoring if someone in your life holds them dear, such as a promotion or a new job, the completion of a major project, adopting a new pet, sometimes even the end of a relationship. By honoring what others value, and not judging them, our connections to them can become stronger.
So often, people do not know what to say when someone is hurting. A first step can simply be to send a card. Different situations affect all of us in various ways, so keep in mind that someone you know may be hurting and too shy to ask for help directly. Acknowledging the situation can open the lines of communication. The loss of a loved one, a diagnosis of illness, and difficulty at work are just a few things on the long list of situations that can be worth your empathy.
Invitations can be a lovely addition to any mailbox, but they can also cause the recipient stress. The trick is to make the invitation as clear & detailed as possible. Start time, location & RSVP information are the basic elements. Try also to consider every possible question an invitee may have & make sure that the invitation answers each one (eg, children? attire? gifts? schedule of events?). As your invitation helps to set not just the tone of the event but also the expectations, a considerate invitation is worth the effort as it leads to happy guests!
Arguably the best kind of personal mail, these notes are sent for no specific reason. They are simply meant to convey a sense of warmth, of friendship, of love, or of any emotion that you like. To receive a note of kindness “out of the blue” is surpassed in value only by the writing of said note. Consider how your words can touch someone in your life, and then consider sharing those words freely. Personal mail truly is an opportunity unlike any other to help us bring the style & graciousness of another time into our everyday lives. Part 2 will cover ideas & examples to help you master the art of sending personal mail, a little discussion on handwritten versus electronic communications, a bit of trivia, and a challenge (with prizes!) to help encourage you to live a glamorous life.
Sarah Carey is The Glamorous Housewife Etiquette Expert. You can read more about her here.