‘The World Needs More Love Letters’ encourages people to write letters and leave them in public places. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Farley)
Spreading the Love through the Dying Art of Letter-Writing
MARCH 01, 2015
Hannah Brencher, the creator of “The World Needs More Love Letters,” actually never intended to start a global movement. Writing letters simply was the best way for her to deal with her own troubles.
But soon she realized that written words, even if they come from a stranger, can have a strong impact on those who receive and read them. Brencher, who has since become a TED speaker, talked to the Jakarta Globe about why the world needs more love letters, and how everyone can get involved by putting their thoughts and stories on paper.
Please tell me more about yourself and your background, and how you had the idea to start ‘The World Needs More Love Letters’?
I am from North Haven, Connecticut. I attended college at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. I graduated in 2010 and moved to New York City to work for a human rights NGO through the United Nations. I was living in the Bronx, New York, at the time.
Very quickly, I found myself struggling with loneliness and sadness that eventually morphed into depression — though I didn’t know how to articulate that to my friends and family. I felt ashamed and upset that I could not just get stronger.
In an effort to do something on the train ride from the Bronx into Manhattan and back, I started writing letters to strangers on the train. I would keep them in a notebook.
When I realized I was never going to use the letters I was writing again, I started leaving them around Manhattan. I would leave them in bookstores, coffee shops, libraries, wherever I thought it would be cool to leave a love letter.
Weeks later, I blogged about what I was doing and put a simple promise out there on the Internet: if you need a love letter, I will write you one.
That one promise changed everything.
Absolutely everything. My inbox filled with dozens and dozens of requests. Heartbreak. Loneliness. Sadness. Cancer. There were so many broken hearts in my inbox and I began writing to each one. I spent 10 months writing hundreds of love letters to strangers before I realized this was something so much bigger than me.
That’s where the idea of ‘More Love Letters’ came from — when I realized the power of what this whole thing could be if others were able to join me.
That’s when the real magic started to happen.
Could you explain how your movement works exactly and how to get involved?
Our movement works two ways: the first way is by people writing letters and leaving them all over their community, city, school, wherever. People will put ‘moreloveletters.com’ somewhere on the letter or the envelope and others will come back and say where they found the letter and what they were going through when it happened. Those stories are so powerful.
You never think something as small as a letter can make such an impact or a difference.
The other way our movement works is through something we call ‘love letter bundles.’ People have the ability to come onto our site and nominate friends and family going through something.
We pick a handful of stories every two weeks to put up on our website.
People from all over the world have the chance to come online, read the stories, and handwrite a letter to mail. All the letters are collected at the end of two weeks and delivered to the person who has no idea they are going to even receive mail!
It’s been absolutely amazing to see the ways in which people band together to love someone they don’t even know.
Do you have many letter writers from Indonesia or Southeast Asia?
We do! Letter writers come from all over the world but we have seen letters coming in from Southeast Asia before.
Some say writing letters is a dying art. Why do you think that ‘The World Needs More Love Letters’ has become so popular anyway?
I think it can be considered a ‘dying art’ in the sense that it isn’t our main mode of communication anymore.
We have more efficient ways to get in touch with one another faster. But nothing beats getting a letter in the mail that isn’t a bill or some sort of spam.
I think we are really nostalgic for everything letter writing symbolizes in our world today: presence. Intention. True connection.
We wanted to bring all of these themes to the forefront while still hinging the movement on social media and social good. I think the combination of letter writing and social media is a powerful one.
Is there any story in particular you felt was extremely touching — or are there simply too many to mention?
We get dozens of these. I personally loved reading the story of a soldier who had come home from war struggling with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and his sister requested love letters for him.
You think a tough guy like that would not need love letters. But we got an e-mail from her saying that he had called her, sitting on the floor and crying because of all the letters from people.
She said one act restored both their faith in humanity. Stories like that make you think there is something so much bigger, so much bigger than just what you thought, happening all around you. It’s the fuel that keeps us going.
Why do you think writing and receiving letters is so fulfilling?
I think it’s because we have to put effort into them. They take time, energy, and attention. And then you get to keep them forever. I love that. I keep all my letters and shuffle through them every once in a while. It’s something about the tangibility that makes letters irresistible to me.
What makes a love letter special and genuine in your eyes?
I would say honesty. Be willing to share yourself.
Be open and candid. We don’t need a perfect person on the other side of the letter — we need someone who is willing to be real and honest with their own struggles and mistakes.
That’s what makes the letters powerful to me.