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Expert Advice

Send an old-fashioned letter

When a friend or loved one is coping with something hard, holiday letters are a nice way to let them know that you’re thinking about them. Letters give you a chance to slow down, take a moment, and tell the people you love how much they mean to you. There’s a reason people save personal letters for decades—they can be heartwarming, thought-provoking, and deeply meaningful. Whenever your friend needs their spirits lifted, they can pull out your letter and read it again.

This year, rather than just signing a holiday card, consider setting aside some time to reflect on your relationship with your friend and composing a letter that expresses what they mean to you. Here are some pointers to help you get started.

Read the tips

List their lovable qualities

Be sure to carve out space in the letter to focus on how much you love and respect your friend. Ask yourself this: If you had only one chance to tell your friend how you feel about them, what would you say? Jot down all the positive qualities that come to mind when you think of them—their kindness, their sense of humor. Try to include a few examples or stories. You don’t have to make it poetic or elaborate; it’s okay to state it simply—“You are one of the most generous people I know”; “I remember how hard you made me laugh the last time we were together.”


Relive a favorite memory

If your friend is longing for someone they love, sharing good memories of that person can mean a lot. Perhaps your friend has lost a loved one. Maybe they are separated from someone they care about because of incarceration, military deployment, illness, or something else. Think of a memory that would bring your friend comfort—especially one that involves the person they miss. What were you doing? How did you feel? Relive that moment in as much detail as you remember. It can help your friend to know that they aren’t the only one thinking about their loved one at this time of year.


Highlight small wins

If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I don’t know how she does it” or “I’m really impressed with how well he handled that situation,” share your admiration. If your friend is struggling, they may be focused on what isn’t going well. Helping them celebrate small victories and their strengths can bolster their confidence. Remind your friend how much their contributions matter.1


Say thank you

Maybe your friend picked up your kids when you were stuck at work. Maybe they helped you deal with a flooded basement or some other home emergency. Thank them for what they did and share how it made you feel. One study found that both the person receiving the thank-you note and the person who sent it experience positive feelings. That’s the power of expressed gratitude.2


Share your hopes

Control any impulse to tell your friend what their future has in store—you can’t honestly say, “I know next year will be better,” because you don’t. You also can’t know how they “should” be reacting to challenges. A better move is to reassure them that you believe in them. Remind them they have the strength and the tools to handle whatever comes next. That said, it can be encouraging to share your hopes and wishes for the new year with your friend. This is different from telling them with certainty that the year will be good, and it’s far less likely to ring false. “I hope next year brings you joy and peace” will remind them that people are pulling for them and wishing them happiness.


Commit to being there

A holiday letter is a chance to remind your friend that you’re not going anywhere. You’re making a commitment to stand with them as they continue walking through life, whatever challenges come their way. Putting it in writing might just solidify your intention, too.

A handwritten, personal holiday letter might take a few minutes to compose. But to the person you care about, the positive effects can last through the holidays—and beyond.


  1. Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist 60 (2005): 410– 21.
  2. Joyce E. Bono, Theresa M. Glomb, Winny Shen, et al., “Building Positive Resources: Effects of Positive Events and Positive Reflection on Work Stress and Health,” Academy of Management Journal 56 (2013): 1601– 27.