Journaling: the key to happiness?

Today I’d like to say a little something about keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings.

Why bother?

Personally my top four reasons are: memory consolidation, emotional awareness and intelligence, greater happiness (see ‘positivity bias’ below), and being more articulate in face to face conversation.

Crucially, journals are very personal so don’t feel like you have to contort yourself into someone else’s writing style and frame. Pick out issues which matter to you personally, for example if you’re feeling underappreciated or down in the dumps try gratitude journaling. Or if you want to make the most of a holiday, holster the camera, and pick up your pen, switch on all your senses, to tell more than the proverbial thousand words, describing not only what you see but what you can smell, hear, taste, feel, and are reminded of.

Only have 2 minutes to spare?

Here’s a tip: try Michelle Gielan’s ‘The Doubler’.

Reflect back over the last 24 hours and whittle this reflection down to the single most meaningful experiences you had, now set a stopwatch for 2 minutes and go! you have 2 mins to describe how you felt. The idea is you are trying to relive the experience, if sustained over a period of time you’ll notice a trajectory of meaning as the dots are connected. Perhaps your most meaningful experience was tucking your children into bed. The next day it might be kissing goodbye. And the day after making pizza with your children. A pattern has emerged. You may decide, fantastic I value them most in life so it’s right and proper they’re central. Journalling about this can help to notice lapses in these experience over time. It can also help you to reflect ah hah I’ve long wanted to widen my ‘meaning portfolio’, I’ve now identified the parts, and what makes them meaningful, I can now look to bring in my spouse and friends into my meaning portfolio.

Silver linings

The great thing about gratitude journals is ‘positivity bias’, the opposite of ‘negativity bias.’ To be clear you cannot woo the negatives away by simply thinking happy thoughts, they’re still there, if you can change the negatives in the world then go for it. Change them! Yea, Demand the impossible!

But no matter how great the negatives there are positives out there if you look hard enough. Perhaps someone told you your bag is undone, or stopped to keep your granny company as she rested waiting for her friends to admire a tourist hotspot, or perhaps they helped with directions. I’m sure when you notice these little things you are grateful. You may well try and be the one who does them: in the words of the League try to be ‘your own superhero.’ But here’s the rub: if you don’t take a couple of mins to write it down you’ll soon forget how common these things are lost amidst a sea of less savoury experiences.

To reliterate: the idea is to focus on the good not to pretend the bad doesn’t exist and is not in need of fixing if it’s within your control to do so. I regulary find myself coming back to this quote by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning to remind myself not to be submissive and the ragdoll to the caprices of fortune:

‘In no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.’

This echos Seneca who said, Why wouldn’t I prefer that war not break out? But if it should come, my hope is to nobly bear the wounds, the starvation, and all else that it must bring with it. I am not so mad as to want to be ill; but if I must be ill, my hope is that I do nothing immoderate or weak. It is not hardships that are desirable, but the courage by which to endure them. (Letters to Lucilius 67.4)

Perhaps like me you find quotes like the two above helpful. If you do perhaps you could try searching out some wise words (ideally between one to three sentences) on a topic dear to you and use this as a kickboard to what you’ll journal about today.

What are you waiting for?

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