Five Ways Postcrossing Makes Me A Better Person
How sending and receiving postcards improves my own world
I'm a postcrosser and proud of it
I joined postcrossing in 2012 where I am known as werewegian and since then I've sent over 13500 postcards to people all over the globe and received a similar number back. It's a great hobby that is ideal for a serial collector like me: postcards and stamps arrive almost every day. But I've found it's not just about collecting. There are subtle things about the postcrossing experience that help me grow to be a better person.
What is postcrossing?
Postcrossing is a project begun in 2005 by Paulo Magalhães for a simple reason - he wanted to receive more postcards from around the world. Since then it has grown to a site that has over 800,000 members from 209 countries. The idea is straightforward. You register a profile on the site including your name and address. You then request the details of up to five members to whom you should send a postcard. Postcrossing randomly decides who these are, and gives you their addresses and a link to their profile. You also get a unique ID which you write on the card along with your message. When the receiver gets the postcard they register it and you get an email which may include a message from the receiver thanking you for the card. Your address and profile is then randomly given to a third postcrosser. You don't know who they are or where they are from. Only when their card arrives do you find that out. Every card is a new surprise! As time goes on and more of your postcards are registered you are able to send more cards simultaneously.
So the obvious benefit of postcrossing is that you receive postcards. But I think there are other benefits that are just as important, to me at least.
1. Postcrossing connects me with the world
Duh! You say. If I am sending and receiving postcards from people in other countries of course I am connecting with those people. But I don't mean that physical connection of a postcard between A and B. I mean that I have a link with that area of the world.
We all watch news. We all see disasters and conflicts. We see political changes, and fires, and volcanic eruptions. Often we feel a momentary compassion for the people in these places. But we think that is happening there and I'm here far away. It's different when you realise you've sent and received cards from people in that region. Suddenly it's more personal. And that's a good thing. I have more empathy with ordinary people around the world than I did before I joined the site and I'm more inclined to contribute to fundraisers or support loans on Kiva because of it.
We see good stories on the news too. Festivals and sporting events. Natural history programmes on TV. New architecture and cultural achievements. I find it also nice to have a connection to people that way. It gives me something in common to talk about on my cards and thank you messages.
2. Postcrossing makes me calm
We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. How it is important to give yourself time to relax, to loosen up and escape the issues you may have with work, relationships, family or the environment you live in. Writing postcards gives me that space to calm myself. I lay out my pens, stamps and cards. I read the profile of the next person I will send a card to. I choose the card and put stamps on it. I write a message. Sometimes I write about the card I'm sending, or the music I'm listening to. I might mention a book I'm reading or a story I'm writing. I might answer a question the recipient has posted on their profile. I address the card and then add stickers or wee drawings to fill the spaces. And while I'm doing all this I'm not thinking about deadlines or arguments, or bad news or pandemics. I'm in a creative zone. I'm relaxed and I have a smile on my face.
3. Postcrossing improves my handwriting
I had nice handwriting when I was at school (one of my history teachers loved dictation) but as an adult in the IT industry I mostly used computers to write reports and emails so that skill was lost. When I first wrote postcards I struggled to be clear, but I defy you not to improve your pen skills after writing 13000 cards! A lot of people comment on it. It's another thing that makes me happy. Of course not everyone will be able to improve, indeed some people type their cards because they are unable to hold a pen steady but if you can hand write you will benefit from all the practice believe me. And while the opportunities to write by pen diminish daily in the digital world you will find where you are writing cards, letters or filling in paper forms people will compliment you for the handwriting alone.
4. Postcrossing teaches me patience
Social media and mobile use has changed drastically in the last ten years. We are used to posting images of ourselves or our world on Flickr or Instagram, making pithy comments on Twitter, or posting updates on our lives on Facebook and looking for instant feedback. Do people like or loathe it, do they agree or disagree, have they looked at our post and commented on it? When you send a card via postcrossing, you don't get that instant gratification. Your card will not arrive that day and probably not the next. Your card may take weeks or months to arrive. It may even never arrive at all. When I first sent cards in 2012 I was desperate for them to arrive. I would wait for a few weeks and then send a message. Have you received my card yet? The answer was almost always no. Postal arrival rates vary from country to country, and people are sometimes away from home, or too busy to register. All I did by sending the message was spoil the surprise for the recipient. So over time I've learned to be patient, to have a laissez-faire attitude to each postcard. What will be, will be. And that's a good way to live in this instant world. What if no-one reads my post or likes my photo? Well, so what? They either get it or they don't. Sharing is the thing, and feedback is nice but without it we'll still survive.
5. Postcrossing reminds me that it's not all about me
I confess one of the reasons I became a postcrosser in the first place was because I wanted to share my photographs in postcard format. I'd been an active member on Flickr since 2005 and had learned a variety of techniques through joining group challenges and activities. So I liked to think my photography skills were good. I made some postcards to send to family and online friends, and when I discovered postcrossing I thought I could extend my photocard sending to that. The rules of the site allow you to send any postcard you like to each recipient but most people write on their profile what kinds of postcards they would like. Sometimes those wishes would coincide with the subjects on my cards, but most of the time they didn't. To counter this I began to collect and send a variety of tourist, Royal Mail or entertainment cards to match what the recipient liked. These days I send few of my own photos and only to those people who like to receive handmade or self-created cards. So it's no longer about what I want to send. It's about an exchange that hopefully pleases both of us. And from the feedback I receive I seem to achieve that often.
World Postcard Day
So there you have it, five extra benefits I've had from being a postcrosser. I'm more connected with the world. I have a space in my day to calm myself. My handwriting has improved. I'm more patient. And I've learned to think about others more often. Postcrossing has given me immense pleasure over the years and if you haven't tried it yet it's World Postcard Day on the 1st of October. It just might be a good time to join up!