Hacking your mood with a Strawberry Letter

A couple of weeks ago, I popped into the First National Taphouse to pick up the dinner we’d ordered, and on their sound system was a song I hadn’t heard, or thought about, in years. It was the Brothers Johnson, singing their 1977 hit, “Strawberry Letter #23,” which has a fun, bouncy melody for the chorus, “A present froooom you, Strawberry Letter 22.” Or, alternatively, the line, “Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue.” Check it out!

The premise is that the singer/narrator and his lover have been exchanging “strawberry letters” as tokens of love, and having just received her Strawberry Letter #22, this song is his response, #23. It was confusing at the time – we all thought the song title should or did include #22, not #23.

Anyway! After that Taphouse meal, I wrote “Strawberry Letter #23” into my ongoing, multi-page do-list and now, whenever I scroll down and come across it, voilà! A cheery, bouncy tune begins playing in the back of my mind, infusing its positive energy into my day. (Alternatively, if pop-funk is too perky for you, try this extremely infectious sea shanty, a recent TikTok craze.)

It’s basically the same phenomenon described in this recent Washington Post article about rewatching old movies and shows – and the same thing I wrote about a month or two ago, about taking a mental stay-cation. We can hack our own moods by setting aside some time to deliberately put our attention elsewhere, or by adding something to our awareness to serve as background for whatever else may happen. I’ll probably flavor my evening with the last movement of the Schubert cello quintet, as performed by our locally beloved Delgani String Quartet. And right before bedtime, I make a point to read something intriguing and deliciously vivid, to unplug my thoughts from the rest of the day.

(I’ve realized that my book projects have each been too slow. If the book I’m writing now had been out in the world by 2015, there’s the remote possibility that someone with access to the Hillary Clinton campaign could have helped her get her act together, or for that matter any of the Republicans who could have kept Trump off the ticket. And my planned second book, about everyday uses of the science of “narrative immersion” – the one I put on hold to write about meta-narratives – maybe it could have helped a few people deal with the stress of the pandemic. Ah well, better late than never, I hope!)

About Laura Akers, Ph.D.

I'm a research psychologist at Oregon Research Institute, and I'm writing a book about meta-narratives, the powerful collective stories we share about who we are and where we're headed. My interests include beliefs and worldviews, ethics, motivation, and relationships, both among humans and between humans and the natural world.
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