When 24-year-old Hannah Brencher moved to New York after college, she was hit by depression and overwhelming loneliness. One day she felt so alone, she wanted to reach out to someone. And so she put pen to paper and started writing letters. Letters to complete strangers.
But these weren’t sad letters about how she was feeling. They were happy letters, all about the other person, not her. She would write messages for people to have a “bright day” and tell strangers how brilliant they were, even if they thought no one else had noticed. Brencher began dropping the notes all over New York, in cafes, in library books, in parks and on the subway. It made her feel better, knowing that she might be making somebody’s day through just a few short, sweet words. It gave her something to focus on. And so, The World Needs More Love Letters was born.
The World Needs More Love Letters is all about writing letters – not emails, but proper, handwritten letters. Not conventional love letters, written to a real beloved, but surprise letters for strangers. They don’t necessarily say “I love you”, but they are full of kindness (that’s the love Brencher’s talking about) – telling people they are remarkable and special and all-round amazing. It’s the sort of stuff that most people don’t really say out loud even to the people they care about, let alone a total stranger.
Brencher’s initiative has now exploded. She has personally written hundreds, if not thousands of letters. Last year, she did a Ted talk. In it, she talks about a woman whose husband, a soldier, comes back from Afghanistan and they struggle to reconnect – “So she tucks love letters throughout the house as a way to say: ‘Come back to me. Find me when you can’” – and a university student who slips letters around her campus, only to suddenly find everyone is writing them and there are love letters hanging from the trees.
Now there are more than 10,000 people who join in all over the world. Sometimes, they write letters to order, to people who are lonely and down and just want someone to tell them that everything will be OK. Mostly, though, they scribble notes and leave them somewhere unlikely, for somebody to find.
It’s a very cute idea. It also sounds, well, a bit American touchy-feely. I’m not sure that’s something us Brits do well (although this chap from Aberdeen did it for a while, to some success judging by the feedback on his blog. Even if his notes were printouts and not charmingly done by hand). But I know that if I was on the receiving end of a letter like that, it almost certainly might put a smile on my face. So I decide to give it a try and see if I might do the same for someone else.
On the morning I decide to write my love letters to strangers, I realise I have committed that journalist schoolgirl-error of forgetting my notepad and pen. So I trundle off to the nearest Paperchase and select some tiny squares of pale-grey card with matching little envelopes. Even if my unknown recipients think I am bonkers, at least I bothered with the details.
With my supplies to hand, I can’t stop thinking about what I might say. By the time I sit down later to write my letters, I feel stupidly self-conscious and also, I don’t want to make a spelling mistake, cross it out and ruin the whole thing. I browse Brencher’s website for inspiration. But everything I start to say sounds, well … cheesy. And stupid. “Hey! You! Yes, you!” Nope.
I try again, and this time bumble my way through a few platitudes, before I cross them out and start afresh. “In a city like London where people go out of their way not to smile or even catch your eye, I just felt like saying hello.” (Or something like that). I end it with a sort of *waves* (though no smiley face) and tell them I hope they had a good day and that even if they had a crappy day, that this random note might have made them feel better. That’ll do for a first attempt.
My next letter is basically the same, except I address it to “the stranger sitting on the tube”. By letter number three, I figure less is more so simply say: “YOU ARE WAY BETTER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE.” Which, let’s face it, we’d all love to hear someone say. I mark the envelope: “Something to cheer you up if you’re having a bad day.” I like that one. I think I nailed it.
The next part is the letter-drop: where to leave them? I slip one in the sofa in the cafe that I’m in, poking out conspicuously between the cushions so the next person notices, and drop the other one oh-so-casually on the tube, as if it wasn’t me that left it on that seat at all. On my way home I notice a nice-looking bike with a basket, so I drop the last note in there.
It’s kind of exciting, oddly exhilarating and butterfly-inducing, leaving these notes behind (I actually hover a safe distance from the bike, pretending to window shop for a few minutes just in case I catch the bike-basket owner coming back, just to see) and wondering if the person who finds one will smile or screw it straight up. I’d like to think they would appreciate the gesture, although I can equally understand why they might think I am a lunatic. But I guess, as Brencher’s experiment shows, it’s really not that much weirder to take the time to write a random letter for someone with the aim of making their day that bit brighter than it is to, say, Tweet a whole bunch of people you’ll never meet or never really know.
When I get home, I realise I have got one card and one envelope left. So I scrawl a lil’ something for my husband and leave it under his pillow. Way better than sending a text.
Have you ever written a letter for someone you don’t know? Did you find mine? Let us know in the comments below.
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