How giving love letters to strangers helped author Hannah Brencher find purpose
For Hannah Brencher, postcollege life in New York City wasn't what she expected. Depressed and struggling to find purpose, she reached out to others with words of kindness and support by leaving anonymous spirit-lifting love letters throughout the city. In October 2010, she blogged about the experience and promised: If you send me your address, I will write you a letter. Her email inbox filled up. Eleven months and 400 letters later, the project turned into MoreLoveLetters.com, a website where people can request love letter bundles for people in need or volunteer to write them. More than 20,000 volunteers—including students belonging to the site's 60-plus Campus Cursive chapters—have helped send more than 100,000 letters to people around the world. Brencher's memoir, If You Find This Letter: My Journey to Find Purpose Through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers, comes out in paperback in spring 2016.
When I started this, I would've been the first to say that the world didn't need love letters. I always thought that in order to spark real change, I would have to do something massive. I was surprised to find out how much impact a letter can make. As social media has heightened and the news seems to get scarier every day, I would say that the world needs more letters than it has ever needed before.
Good letters are honest and relatable. They share a part of your story and make a person say, "Me, too." The most solid letters come from writing the words you've needed to read for a long time.
My purpose is for other people. If we focus on other people more than we focus on our own stuff, we can see purpose in our everyday life. It's made all the difference for me. We live in a culture that tells us you have to love yourself before you can love anybody else, and I don't believe that's true.
Just reminding people that they matter and are cared for and loved. That doesn't have to be a romantic thing. You don't need to be in a relationship to know that I care about you and that the world would be missing something if you weren't here.
Our biggest demographic is millennials. They don't want to just make a donation or click and retweet. Why not let college students be the hands and feet of our movement? Our campus chapters consistently blow us away. They want to get their hands deep into something and believe in a mission and carry it through.
We're so similar. We all get our hearts broken, grieve, regret, and forgive. I'm surprised every day by the bravery of humans. An agoraphobic woman who received a love letter bundle from us wanted to do something to say thank you. So she left her house and walked 353 steps—one for each letter. It's incredible to me that she would conquer her biggest fear because of what people that she'll probably never meet did for her.
We are working on a model where people can start a branch in their own communities. As tragedies have happened, whether it's the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, or Aurora, Colorado, we wish we could be on the ground like first responders, but we don't have the capacity to collect letters for every situation.
—Interview by Theresa Walker
Download the January/February 2016 digital edition.
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