At lunchtime on Friday, Jan. 12 — rush hour in Commons — some students took a moment to exit the fast lane, stopping by a small table set up outside the Fireplace Lounge to share some gratitude.
There, as with every first Friday of each month, Well-Being at Bates hosted a tabling event where students could grab a pen and postcard and write a quick note of gratitude to a person of their choosing (and grab some chai and snacks, if they wished).
Once written, the postcard was given to the staff of Well-Being at Bates, who handled delivery and postage, if needed.
It’s long been known that practicing gratitude is more valuable than a 53-cent postcard. Gratitude promotes connection in both a social and relational way, and studies show that people who practice gratitude are more likely to feel more fulfilled and positive in life.
“There have been experiments where people wrote down things that they’re grateful for, and then another group wrote down things that irritated them that day,” explained Andee Bucciarelli, associate director of health education and part of the Well-Being at Bates team. “The people who practiced gratitude on a regular basis felt better about their lives in general.”
During each postcard session, around 200 students write cards to friends, professors, and staff members on campus and to family members and friends off campus. Since the start of the academic year, gratitude postcards have traveled across the U.S. to states like Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., and as far away as India, Argentina, Mexico, and Austria.
“Being able to write a note to my family felt great,” said Sam Hallett ’26 of Pittsburg, Pa. “Even though I can easily text a quick note to my parents, I believe receiving a letter gives more meaning to your message.”
The tactile nature of handwritten notes has a way of triggering emotional responses that connect sender and recipient. The extra effort comes through, as does the intention, sincerity, and thoughtfulness of sending a letter or postcard. Particularly in the era of text and email, receiving handwritten notes is surprising and memorable.
It’s also a gift that keeps on giving, says Brenna Callahan ’15, a member of the Well-Being at Bates team who is associate director of health services for student support.
“When the person gets the card, they probably reach out to you and say, ‘Oh, I got your postcard — that was so nice.’ You’ve made them happier, and then that comes back around and it has a secondary impact on you once you hear from the person. The person sending the note feels individual gratitude, and it also bolsters connection.”
(And that’s what happened to me: As I reported this story, I selected one of the three postcard options and, wrote a postcard to my aunt on the fabric-covered table, placed it in the bin of cards, and went about my Bates day. Not long after, Aunt Nancy texted me a photo of my postcard, along with a sweet message and a heart emoji.)
Well-Being at Bates was convened in the wake of the pandemic. “There was a lot of talk coming out of the pandemic around mental health,” said Bucciarelli. “We came together as a multidisciplinary team to provide holistic resources for students and make them aware of existing resources.
“We encourage students to think about their well-being proactively and to engage in small actions that can improve overall well-being on a daily basis. We are zoomed out, proactive, and action-oriented.”
Comprising staff from Bates Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, Sports Medicine, and the Office of Residence Life and Health Education, the collaboration has assembled resources and hosts events encompassing nine dimensions of well-being: academic, environmental, financial, mental, occupational, physical, relational, social, and spiritual.
The postcard project is a small but intentional expression of the group’s work to support student well-being.
“Gratitude is something that we can encourage, and it’s something we are excited about,” says Bucciarelli.
As Commons began to quiet down at the end of lunch, a throng of students still gathered around the postcard table, eager to write a quick note to a loved one before heading back to class.
Signing their names and addressing their postcards, students stepped back out into the cold winter day with warm chai and bright smiles.