Journaling, gratitude, mindfulness, and introspection.
What do all these things have in common?
They are all significantly correlated to happiness. Now, what does this have to do with journaling? It’s easy: journaling – no matter in what form – helps you achieve these things.
There is plenty of scientific research on the benefits of journaling. But that’s not what I want to focus on in this section. I want to focus on the simple fact that journaling is fun.
Journaling has many incredible benefits. It’s a form of therapy that you can do on your own. It improves your memory and self-awareness. It can even increase your productivity.
No wonder why many successful people are known journal writers.
In addition to helping you sort out your thoughts, journaling is good for your mental health, and we have the evidence to prove it:
- A 2013 study conducted at the University of Michigan showed that among people with major depression, expressive journaling for 20 minutes a day lowered their depression scores significantly;
- According to another study, visual journaling can help decrease stress, anxiety and negative affect levels in medical students, a demographic known for being more prone to stress and burn-out;
- Journaling can also help with self-efficacy: according to a 2008 study, the self-efficacy of undergraduate college students was improved after weekly journal assignments.
Yet, how do you start journaling? Do you write in a book, notepad or digital file? What do you even write about? How do you turn journaling in a habit?
These questions might be difficult to answer, but the simple truth is that you just need to start journaling.
The first step: start journaling!
Have you ever heard the following phrase?
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
The same goes for journaling. Everybody started the same way: writing down that first word on a piece of paper. Even the people who are now known to be the greatest diarists around started the same way, by writing something along the lines of “dear diary…”
In fact, my first written words in my journal were:
This is my first ever page.
My point is, journaling is one of the most powerful tools to being grateful, mindful, self-aware, introspective and therefore being happy. If you’re not sure how to even start journaling, here’s my advice:
- Buy a nice little notebook
- Find a great pen
- Sit down with a cup of coffee
- Write the following words: “Dear diary, today this happened:”
And go from there.
Find the journaling method that you love
There are over a thousand different journaling methods out there.
It’s safe to assume that you won’t enjoy every method. In fact, you’ll need to find the journaling method that you love.
As much as no one is able to tell you how to live a happy life, no one will be able to determine what journaling method will make you the happiest. I personally made the switch from pen and paper to a digital journal format a couple of years ago. Even now, I tweak my journal every couple of months!
If you at least just start journaling, you will quickly be able to find out what helps you the most on your pathway to happiness.
Gratitude is strongly correlated to positive emotions and good experiences, and the reason why is very simple to explain.
A study on gratitude was conducted in 2003 by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. The study found that people who are actively reminded of things to be grateful for are 10% happier than those who aren’t.
This might not sound like a lot at first, but when talking about happiness, mood and subjective well-being, this is a very significant result. See, things like happiness and mood are extremely hard to measure and define. The measurement of subjective things like these is distorted in a lot of ways, like biases, different measuring scales, and wrong interpretations to name a few. The researchers have done a great job to eliminate as much of the distortion as possible, and a 10% increase in happiness as a result of practicing gratitude is a huge observation.
So if you want to be happier, it’s a great idea to start adding gratitude to your journal (more on that later!)
Study and learn from your journal on how to be happier!
Here’s something not a lot of people do:
Learn from your journal and find out how you can be happier.
At the start of this guide, I talked about how no-one can tell you how to live a happy life. Not your parents, not your friends, not me, and especially not your colleagues.
Only you can learn how to be happy yourself. See where I’m going here? If you’ve been journaling for some time already, you have an immense amount of knowledge sitting right underneath your nose.
Your journal is able to teach you:
- How to be happy on crappy Mondays.
- How to deal with that annoying colleague (we all have one).
- How to not be bothered by your busy commute.
- How much your friends improve your happiness.
- That you’re not as happy when you feel hungover.
You get the point, right?
By journaling, you’re basically recording daily case studies (or experiments) on how your life is influenced by everything. You can learn from these daily experiments!
So take out your journal and read it through whenever you’re feeling like it. You’ll be surprised about how much you can learn from yourself.
Keep track of your memories
I was shocked that only a small number of people knows of this journaling method.
It all started a couple of years ago. When I was 20 years old, I slowly grew obsessed with memorizing my own memories. Simply put, I wanted to make sure I never lost any of my memories ever again. What kind of memories?
- Memories of how my granddad used to take me trainspotting.
- Memories of how I once peed in the classroom in kindergarten without anyone noticing.
- Memories of my first pet.
You get the point. These are all good memories that I’m extremely grateful for, and I don’t ever want to forget them.
That’s why I started to keep track of my memories in a dedicated memory journal.
It’s amazing how much happiness can come from re-reading memories of your past. That’s why I was so shocked that no-one else seems to be doing this.
This is simply a great journaling method for those who want to be happier.
Don’t forget to live life outside of your journal
Journaling is great. I think this section has made that very clear. But – like everything – it’s possible to overdo it.
One of my favorite writers – David Sedaris – has worded it beautifully:
That’s the thing with a diary, though. In order to record your life, you sort of need to live it. Not at your desk, but beyond it. Out in the world where it’s so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need to sit down and write about it.
What this means is that journaling is a beautiful way to record and learn from your life. But in order to be able to journal, you need to live your life first.
I was surprised when I found out, but there are some people who let journaling control their lives. I don’t want you to go down that route! Journaling can be harmful if you let it.
Otherwise, journaling is a great way to learn more about yourself and how to be happier!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 6 years.