The Psychology of Greetings Cards

19 August 2020

As an island, we love sending cards – Britons send the most number of cards per head than any other nation. Today, our aim is to shine some light onto just how important a tradition they are and delve a bit deeper into the psychology of WHY we send cards.

The significance of this tradition is well highlighted in one very important story. Unbeknownst to many, greetings cards were banned at the beginning of WWII in order to conserve paper. After some backlash, this ban was soon lifted as the government decided that greetings cards were ‘considered essential to the war effort.’ Everyone agreed that cards significantly lifted the morale of both front-line fighters and the general public back at home so much so that they should be allowed, despite the worry around resources. Whilst our world today is totally different, the story touchingly highlights the importance to the British public of sending and receiving cards.

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The psychology behind greetings cards can be traced back in human history longer than you’d think. Greetings cards likely evolved out of the long and hugely important tradition of writing letters. Writing letters was a vital means to stay informed and maintain relationships, and whilst we have much quicker ways to communicate with our loved ones now, our want to send something handwritten in the post to mark an occasion - or to simply nurture a relationship - hasn’t gone anywhere.

Some think the beginnings of this tradition stems from even further back. Our ancestors in caves marked important occasions onto cave walls in various ways, and this activity has been likened to the incentive we feel today to mark birthdays, weddings, and other life events with beautiful greetings cards, often a work of art themselves.[1] Of course, nowadays a reason isn’t needed to send a card - simply the urge to let someone know you’re thinking of them, you’re proud of them, or you wish them well is enough.

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Now, imagine you’re in a shop or on your laptop, and you’re trying to pick out a birthday card for someone. You’ll no doubt have that specific person in mind, and everything you know about their character, likes, and dislikes will inform your choice. Choosing a card for a loved one is a deeply personal process, drawing on the unique relationship between two people, and can often be quite taxing for this very reason due to the emotional energy spent!

Card choice can also say a lot about the sender, as well as the receiver. If you’ve got a good sense of humour, you’ll likely choose a funny or witty card. If you struggle to express yourself, you might choose a wordy one that does the work for you. If you’re an artist, you might choose a card with an intricate piece of artwork – or even make your own! As humans, we project our desires and personalities onto the world around us – and greetings cards are no exception. This makes them a heartfelt, deeply personal way of communicating.

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It’s not just about sending cards, though – perhaps even more obviously, receiving a card is undoubtedly a positive experience. Receiving a card gives you a fuzzy feeling knowing you’re in someone’s thoughts. Greetings cards are also often long-lasting memories for the receiver. Anyone else have a box or folder full of cards collected over the years, from significant birthdays or life events? We may even have some cards filed away that were given to us by friends or family that are no longer with us. If you’re not a card-keeper – don’t despair! You’ll have loads of other lovely ways to remember times gone by. But there’s no denying greetings cards are a central part of many people’s memory boxes!

 The Art File Sara Miller

Sending and receiving cards can even help to combat loneliness, which is a heart-breaking issue rife in today’s society. Whilst we’re still keeping our distance from loved ones we can send a text or an email to check up on our friends and family, but sending a card means more than a WhatsApp - it’s a tangible way to express emotions such as love, gratitude, condolences, and more. Seeing a friend’s hand-written note in a carefully-selected card creates a powerful connection between the receiver and sender in a way that digital instant messages don't. And although lockdown has eased somewhat in the UK, creating this connection between friends and family is more important than ever for our emotional well-being.