Judging by the number of Christmas cards I received this year (two) compared to a decade ago (about 15 or so), I would guess that most of us are not receiving many "personal" pieces of mail anymore. I really loved getting Christmas cards, but understand that not everyone has time to sit down during the busy holiday season to reach out to friends far away. I certainly don't! But isn't it fun to receive those cards, especially those with a handwritten note? I miss them.

I do have time after the holidays, especially this week between Christmas and New Year's, when so many offices are de facto closed, even if a few of us drift in and out. So this year I am going to attempt a new tradition; gratitude cards to go out to those people who I feel I owe a thanks to for the past year (or those who I have been out of touch with and want to reach out to). I'm choosing just four or five folks who I want to thank for their time, energy, or just-being-there-ness in 2011. And I'm going to do my best to get the cards out before the first week of January.

The idea of a gratitude card will produce warm fuzzies for not only those who you are thanking, but you'll also feel great while you are writing and even after you've sent the cards. And this isn't just my own observation: According to WebMD, "Throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders have extolled gratitude as a virtue integral to health and well-being. Now, through a recent movement called positive psychology, mental health professionals are taking a close look at how virtues such as gratitude can benefit our health."

Scientists are finding that regularly expressing gratitude lowers stress and boosts immunity, and more studies are ongoing. So taking the time to thank others results in positive energy for yourself, and maybe will help you sleep a bit easier, or keep you from picking up that next cold.

"Thousands of years of literature talk about the benefits of cultivating gratefulness as a virtue," University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons told WebMD. But the proof is in the pudding; sending gratitude notes or cards just feels good inside.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

No time for holiday cards? Try New Year's gratitude cards instead
A simple message to friends and family is a great way to end — or begin — the year.