By now you may have written, or received, one of those epic holiday letters many people still send. “Dear Friends and Family, It’s been a busy year. We lost our beloved Spot…but we finally fixed the toilet!” Well, if you write these annual reports, take a look at your latest. Because scientists at North Dakota State University say that the style of these missives may reveal as much as their content.
The researchers have analyzed more than 1,200 holiday letters written over the past decade. Many follow the one-person-per-paragraph approach to storytelling. Others are formatted to look like newspaper articles. One was even written from the perspective of a deceased pet, reporting on the family’s activities from its resting place: sitting, stuffed, in the den.
More than 80 percent of the letters provide a bullet-point list of the year’s happenings. But only 5 percent talk about how major events—births, death, weddings, divorce—affected the writers personally. Such reflection is key to living life to the fullest, say the scientists in a paper published last year in the Journal of Happiness Studies. [Becky DeGreeff, Ann Burnett and Dennis Cooley, "Communicating and Philosophizing About Authenticity or Inauthenticity in a Fast-Paced World"]
So brag about your kids or complain about your bunions. Because there’s more to a good story than who, what, when, where. And how.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]