The study, by Li, Wei and Soman (Psychological Science, August 2010) points to the beneficial physical action of writing about events in order to gain emotional closure on them. The metaphorical act of sealing the envelope, it seems, is critical.
Having been a fan of daily journal writing and morning pages for over thirty years (how can I be this old?), I believe that the research lends support to what writers instinctively know. The interesting additional bit is the sealing away the things you’d rather forget inside an envelope and getting rid of it.
The researchers refer to other studies of how our language largely reflects our physical embodiment. Writing way back in 1980, Lakoff and Johnson said:
Metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature. (Metaphors We Live By)
Maybe the recent study just adds weight to this argument (although the research was based on a relatively small sample of participants – around 80 – and all students).
So it could be worth a try: if there is something you’d rather put behind you (another metaphor), try writing about it, sealing the envelope and throwing it away. If nothing else, just getting the thoughts out of your head and onto paper might be the critical factor in moving forward.