… I love you most … you phoned me tonight—I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me.
-Zelda Fitzgerald, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald
Frenzied declarations of love scrawled with a fountain pen may seem antiquated, and they probably don’t feature in your Valentine’s Day game plan. But love letter writing is worth a shot, and not just for the flush of joy it will give the recipient. Writing from the heart is good for the writer, too.
The benefits of writing in general are well established. Writing helps us cope with emotions and complex situations, and it can even lower blood pressure and improve lung and liver function. But writing letters that express kindness, gratitude, and love seems to have special health-boosting effects (to say nothing of the boost it can give a relationship).
It may lower your cholesterol
Two studies had college students write affectionate letters to friends, family members, or partners for just 20 minutes on three separate occasions. A control group wrote about innocuous topics instead. Those who wrote emotionally charged letters experienced a significant reduction in total cholesterol by the end of the five-week trial.
It could improve your sleep
A study of more than 200 people found that those who felt more gratitude experienced better and longer sleep, as well as less daytime dysfunction. A love letter is essentially the distillation of our feelings of gratitude for another person. Try writing a love letter before bed, or at least thinking about what you’d like to say: the researchers found that our “pre-sleep cognitions” seem to be the key to the relationship between gratitude and improved sleep.
It could help the two of you stay together
Research has shown that people who feel more appreciated by their partner are more likely to stay in the relationship. Appreciative partners are even rated as “more committed” by outside observers in lab settings. It’s hardly surprising: a partner who wants to dwell on your stellar traits (and write them down!) rather than nitpick your flaws is much more fun to be around.
Anyone can do it … no romance required
No romantic partner? Shy about gushing to friends or family? No problem. Canadian researchers recently discovered that performing acts of kindness for anyone at all—even strangers—can reduce symptoms of social anxiety. In fact, entire movements exist to send loving letters to whoever needs a word of encouragement or kindness.
You don’t need to start with a sonnet or a dozen feverish pages sealed with wax. A few lines will do nicely for both you and the object of your affection.