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7 Things To Write In Your Journal (For Meaning And Self-Awareness)

Journaling is amazing, but you’ve probably heard this many times already. Journaling has lots of therapeutic benefits, plus it can simply be a lot of fun. So you decided that you want to get started with your journal. The next question is: What do you write in your journal?

Even though there aren’t any rules in journaling, you don’t want to mess it up either. You don’t want to fill an entire journal with thousands of words, only to later find out that you’d rather have written about something else. If you don’t know what to write in your journal, I’ll show you some of the things that have helped most people get started.

By writing these things in your journal, I guarantee that you’ll never regret any of your hard work. Here are 7 ideas to write in your journal that are both fun, meaningful, and make use of the many benefits of journaling.

Journaling, gratitude, mindfulness, and introspection. What do all these things have in common? It’s that they’re all significantly correlated to your happiness. That’s what the section Journaling For Happiness is all about in the biggest (freely available) guide on how to be happy.

Why it’s hard to think of what to write in your journal

As I said in the intro, there are no rules when it comes to journaling.

But I totally understand why it might feel difficult to actually write down that first word. After all, there’s no going back once the ink hits the paper.

However, here are two statements that might help you get started:

  • Good is better than perfect.
  • Done is better than perfect.

I use this advice in other aspects of my life as well (it helps me deal with perfectionism), but it’s super applicable to journaling as well.

You can’t reap all the benefits of journaling without allowing your pen to touch the paper. And in the end, a couple of sentences that look like gibberish won’t completely ruin your journal.

What to do if you don’t know what to write in your journal

One of my favorite types of books to read is to read someone else’s published journal. I’ve read a couple of great journals, like:

By reading these journals, I’ve gotten some great ideas of what to write in my own journal.

But what stuck with me most was a passage from David Sedaris’ diary (Theft By Finding).

It might look like my average diary entry amounts to no more than seven sentences, but in fact I spend an inordinate amount of time writing about my day – around forty-five minutes, usually.

If nothing big happened, I’ll reflect on a newspaper article or a report I heard on the radio. I’m not big on weather writing but have no policy against it. Thus when life gets really dull, I’ll just look out the window and describe the color of the sky. That will lead to something else, most often: a bird being mean to another bird or the noise a plane makes.

Theft By Finding by David Sedaris

I’ve used this advice many times from when I first started journaling in 2013. If I don’t know what to write about, I’ll just look around and write about something that piques my interest.

While this may not directly produce the most insightful journal entry, it does help get my brain moving. Oftentimes, it’s much easier to write down something worthwhile when you already started with something insignificant.

7 journaling ideas to get started

If you’re ready to start writing, here are 7 journaling ideas that will help you get started. You obviously don’t have to pick all of them. Instead, just try one of these out whenever you feel like you don’t know what to write in your journal.

1. Journal about things that you’re grateful for in your life

I know, I know. Everybody in the world – and their granny – is talking about gratitude. Practicing gratitude is supposed to be this lifehack that instantaneously puts a smile on your face. Or at least, that’s what all these articles about gratitude will have you believe.

Here are some things you should know about gratitude:

  • It isn’t a lifehack, and it certainly won’t fix all your problems.
  • It does however increase your odds of finding peace in your current state of mind.
  • The most powerful aspect of practicing gratitude is that it’s something you can control entirely.

Practicing gratitude has been linked to a direct increase in happiness of 10%, as found by studies. We’ve covered those in this article about the powerful relationship between gratitude and happiness.

10% may not seem like much, and I somewhat agree, as a 10% increase won’t fix all the problems in your life. However, the main benefit here is that you can “be grateful” whenever you set your mind to it.

And a journal just so happens to be the perfect place to express gratitude.

How can you do so? It’s super simple, actually. Just ask yourself what you are thankful for, and write it down. By spending just 5 minutes a day doing this simple exercise, you’ll be experiencing the full benefits of practicing gratitude.

woman writing in a journal

It’s not as if you’ll directly notice your increased mood. Practicing gratitude won’t stop your car from breaking down, and neither will it stop you from experiencing stress at work. But by focusing on what you’re grateful for, you can focus on positivity rather than negativity.

If you need more examples of gratitude, here you go!

2. Write down all the things that have kept you down today

If you’re having a shitty day, journaling about what’s keeping you down is the perfect remedy. Since I started journaling in 2013, I’ve written dozens of pages filled with rants, curses, irritated thoughts and crushed dreams.

While it may sound counterintuitive, writing about all the negative shit you’re dealing with can actually lift your spirits.

Have you ever experienced stressful moments where you just can’t get a grip on your mind? No matter what you do, you keep worrying about tens of problems at once.

By actually writing these down in your journal, you’ll notice that your brain starts to relax. By giving these negative thoughts a place to go wild, you’ll stop them from turning your mind into a chaotic mess.

One of our readers said it more elegantly:

I found that writing about my emotional state and describing issues in detail forces me to confront them and take the time to deconstruct them. This usually allows me to understand the issue, and that calms the chaos in my head. You can think of this as clearing the RAM in your system.

Sanjay (one of our readers)

Not only will this journaling tip help you sleep at night, it will also give you some interesting journal entries to look back at in a few years. I’ve experienced this first hand, where I re-read some of my older journal entries to find them filled with rants. And I mean, pages upon pages of annoyed rants.

It helps me realize that I’m just human, and makes me appreciate how much I’ve grown over the years.

3. Rate your happiness on a scale from 1 to 100

Something I do – and have done every single day since 2013 – is answer this question:

On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate your happiness?

Here’s what it looks like in my older journals (before I switched over to a digital journal):

tracking happiness ratings at the start in my journal
This is how I rated my happiness with every daily journal entry. What you see here is 4 separate journal entries, where I start with the date, the day of the week, the time and my happiness rating.

If you don’t know what to write in a journal, I highly recommend you try this method. It will help you think about how your day actually went. Are you feeling happy today, and if so, why exactly? This will help you turn your thoughts into words.

There’s another big benefit to this method. By rating your happiness every day, you’ll become much more self-aware of how your mental health is impacted by the things that happen to you. If you’re a nerd like me, it will also allow you to find trends and correlations in your data. Are you happier on weekends? Are you more frustrated when you have to work late?

If you want to read more about tracking happiness, here’s a better description of the method.

We’ve also written an entire article about how to journal for self-awareness here.

4. Write down your goals

I know a lot of people that use their journal to keep track of their goals. No matter how big or small they are, a journal can help you stay accountable to yourself.

So if you like to write your journal in the morning, you might want to try to list a couple of goals that you want to reach that day. For example, your goals can be:

  • Go for a run.
  • Finish 10 pages of a report at work.
  • Make the bed.
  • Do groceries for the week.

If you’re like me and prefer to journal before going to bed, you can list your goals for the next day.

Setting smaller goals is a good way to make sure that you’re working towards something and not just coasting through your days on autopilot. 

You can set goals in whatever area of life you like and they can be short-term or long-term. But remember, good goals are always specific and measurable. 

A goal without a plan is a daydream.

Rick Conlow

By using your journal to track your goals, you’ll also be more inclined to be successful in the things you want to accomplish. We’ve published an article specifically about journaling for success here!

5. Journal about a random memory of your youth

Whenever I don’t know what to write in my journal, I do something that I call “filling in the blanks”.

This means that I try to write about a personal memory from years ago, way before I started to keep a journal. For example, I’ve written about the following memories in my journal:

  • When my mom first showed me the 9/11 attacks on the Dutch national news, back when I was 8 years old, and how weird I thought it all was.
  • How I was too shy to talk to a girl in school, even though I had a crush on her and she actually sent me a Valentine’s card (I know, I know, it took a while before I forgave myself for that one).
  • Or when my dad took me with him on his job as a civil engineer, for a large bridge construction project.

These are all memories that I hold dear to my heart. By writing them down in my journal, I’m filling in the blank pages of my life. By doing so, I get to “immortalize” my memories, while also practicing gratitude for all the good things I have in my life.

If you want to know more about this journaling idea, here’s an article I wrote about how I remember my memories in a journal.

6. Write a letter to your future self

Here’s another creative way to write in your journal when you don’t know what to write about.

This one is called future self journaling, and it means to write a letter to your future self. This can be either extremely funny or confrontational.

For example, I wrote myself a journal entry that I had to read on October 11, 2015.

Dear Hugo, today is the day that you’ll (hopefully) have finished the Rotterdam marathon. If so, then that’s AWESOME. If you managed to finish within 4 hours, BRAVO. But even if you didn’t finish it at all, just remember why you signed up in the first place: to challenge yourself, both physically and mentally.

Just know that you really challenged yourself and did your best, so you should be great either way!

Letter to my future self

This one was extremely funny to re-read. It was my first ever marathon, and I had made the rookie mistake to have extremely high expectations. I finished in 4 hours and 22 minutes, but I still finished nonetheless! This letter to my future self helped me appreciate what I accomplished and made me proud of myself.

How can you use this in your own journal?

  1. Write yourself a letter about something funny you want to remember, ask yourself about things that are currently bothering you, or remind your future self about why you are currently doing some things that another person might not understand.
  2. Explain to your future self why you are writing this in the first place.
  3. Don’t forget to date your letter, journal entry or email and create a reminder in your calendar for when you need to open this message or journal again.

So if you don’t know what to write in your journal, why not try this simple idea?

7. Start by answering a journal prompt

The last journaling idea of this list is perhaps the easiest of all. If you don’t know what to write in a journal, just use a simple journal prompt and go from there.

A journal prompt is a simple statement designed to inspire you or offer you an idea of what to write about. Following a journal prompt might help you release some of your creativity, even if you’re not big on writing.

Here are some examples of journal prompts:

  • Talk about your best happiness factor for today.
  • Talk about something that made you laugh today.
  • Explain how today could have possibly been a better day.
  • Talk about something that bothered you today.
  • Explain how today could have gone much worse.
  • Talk about something that you’re proud of doing today.

My advice is to start your journal entry by simply copying one of these prompts at the top of the page. Start answering the prompt, and you’ll probably find it easier to continue writing, even if it diverges from the initial prompt that got you started.

One final tip: resist the urge to edit

There are ultimately many more journal ideas that will help you when you don’t know what to write about. I tried to give you the most creative and meaningful methods to help you become more self-aware.

One final tip that I want to give you is to resist the urge to edit whatever you wrote down.

Journaling is about writing freely. So, don’t worry about grammatically incorrect phrases, run-on sentences, or incorrect spelling.

This is not a graded essay. You won’t receive likes or comments the way you do in your diary-like status on Facebook. This is for your eyes only, so don’t be too conscious about what you’re writing and how you’re writing it.

As long as you understand what you wrote and you can reread your journal whenever you need to, then that’s good enough!

Wrapping up

I hope these journal ideas will help you when you don’t know what to write next time you open your diary. By using one of these tips, you’ll turn your toughts into meaningful journal entries that will help you become more self-aware and happy.

Do you want to share on of your favorite journal ideas? Was there anything I missed? Or do you disagree with something I said? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Founder of Tracking Happiness

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 7 years.

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