rior to a milestone birthday, a blue wave of unsettledness crashed over me. My marriage was in turmoil, the family business went bankrupt, our oldest daughter graduated from high school and left for college, and my teaching position was cut. Anger and resentment radiated from me in multiple forms: angry words with my husband, crabby conversations with family and close friends, and constant complaining in my writing.
On my 40th birthday, my inner writer slapped me back to reality and gave me an ultimatum: let irritating words permeate the pages I wrote, or face the situation, find the proverbial silver lining, and return to the writer I knew I needed to be.
My prescription was simple. And, it worked.
In addition to the daily dish I recorded in my journal, I wrote myself to happiness. Each day, I decided to focus on one event and write about the positive aspects. Granted, finding optimism daily proved difficult at times, but by focusing on even the simplest of life’s indulgences, I felt the creative edge return. And most importantly, my writing, as well as my attitude and health, improved.
“Some experiences and insights don’t stand a chance of surviving in our memories if we don’t write them down.”
Food diaries. Travel Records. Health Logs. Dream Journals. Blogs.
People write journals for a variety of reasons, but the two main motives to keep a journal center on preserving a legacy and healing through writing therapy.
Samara O’Shea, author of Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits (HarperCollins 2008), says, “It’s important to have a record of your life—if not your whole life then maybe significant parts of it such as the college years or the travel years. Some experiences and insights don’t stand a chance of surviving in our memories if we don’t write them down.”
Journals offer a place to vent, a means of self expression. But, quite often, journal writing becomes filled with the heavy stuff that drags us down. Focusing on the positive in personal writing will eventually lead to finding the positive elements surrounding us every day. Ultimately, finding purpose through writing will lead to personal happiness and fulfillment. And that, writing friends, is worth all the paper and ink in the world.
O’Shea says one way to incorporate the positive in journaling is to have a “look on the bright side” sentence or two in every entry, adding authenticity to journal entries.
“Even if you’re writing an entry motivated by sadness or anger, include something at the end that you’re excited about or looking forward to,” says O’Shea.
Rx: I still include a positive comment in each of my journal entries. The day might be a complete disaster, but I find one snippet of time that brought peace and concentrate on the feelings associated with that moment. For me, it adds a sense of calmness to my hectic life.
“Journaling helps clarify what you want.”
Is journaling the new wonder drug?
Quite possibly, yes. The art of self-expression can lead to decreased anxiety and depression. Writing about your days lowers stress, reduces the incidence of colds and flu, and improves the immune system. Those suffering from asthma and arthritis show a decrease in symptoms once they begin journaling.
Journaling not only does a body good, but the mental advantages gained through personal writing soothe the mind while increasing cognitive functioning. Repressing events takes energy. Instead of focusing on the negative, channeling the energy toward the positive assists the healing process and allows a writer to visualize her best possible self.
A journal is a powerful tool in the healing process. Many health practitioners advocate journal writing as a way to confront an illness or emotional issue and formulate a plan for handling the future. Journaling provides clarity.
Carolyn Adams Miller, MAPP, ACC and author of Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide (Sterling, Jan. 2009) says, “Journaling helps clarify what you want. It helps you see where you might have conflict in your goals and establishes a roadmap for short-and long-term goals.”
Rx: From my own experience, I know when I’m experiencing periods of stress based on the topics I choose to write about and the word choices I make. Once I recognize that I’m headed down the path of negativity, I gather my thoughts and refocus on the positive in a situation.
“Only when you say or write the truth yourself can you then address the issues you have.”
Undoubtedly, one of the essentials of journal writing is the art of telling the truth. But, the truth isn’t always easy to verbalize because individuals lie to themselves on a regular basis.
Think about it. We tell our children little white lies to keep them safe. We ask our significant other if a certain article of clothing makes us look fat, knowing it does, and force them to lie and say we look great.
O’Shea says, “If you’re lying to yourself about not having a problem, then it’ll never get solved. Only when you say or write the truth yourself can you then address the issues you have.”
“You can’t just have this Pollyanna view of the world and focus only on the positive,” says Adams Miller.
Enter the truth in your journal, even if the subject is grim. Then, provide a candid comment with a positive spin. Honesty in journal writing is the best policy.
Rx: Being brutally honest has always been one of my strengths and one of my weaknesses. And a lot of times, I’m honest with others but not with myself. Journaling gives me the opportunity to write from an honest perspective and address the issues that are glaring at me. When I am honest about a situation and can see even a minute positive element, I write what I envision as the explicit truth. It frees my mind of clutter and confusion.
Staying upbeat can be a challenge!
Rx: Here are several prescriptions from O’Shea and Miller. All are based on simple journaling exercises, all geared toward affirmative composition:
- Quotes help you find yourself. Recording quotes, poems or lyrics in your journal not only connects you with someone else, but it’s a reflection of your opinions and experiences. I received my first journal when I graduated from high school. On those pages, I copied quotes and poems I enjoyed. This journal provides a glimpse into my perceptions of life at age 17 and clearly shows my evolution these past 30 years.
- Unsent letters let you say anything. Write a letter to someone and tell them how you truly feel. The best part of this exercise is that the letter doesn’t talk back! After suffering a miscarriage, I realized writing a letter to my unborn child offered the chance to say the things I wished I had the opportunity to say.
- Stream of consciousness is an easy writing method. Just put pen to paper and write. When I taught creative writing, I used this method as an opener for class. I’d set a timer and we would write whatever thoughts came to mind. Can’t think of anything? By writing “I can’t think of anything to write” a couple times, topics surface rather quickly.
- Questions deserve answers. Headline journal pages with provocative questions that call for reflection. Some journals available for purchase come with these types of prompts; online sites offer topic lists that kick-start your inner critic. When I’m facing a challenge, I’ll often ponder a question and find the answer in my response.
- Praise is powerful! Acknowledging your blessings becomes addictive to one’s quality of life and a person’s perception of life changes in six to eight weeks. Convey what makes you happy, what brings you joy, and learn to take control of your happiness.
Try one of these methods of positive journaling and see if notice a change in your tone.
Since adjusting my outlook nearly seven years ago, I’ve noticed a profound change in my personal writing as well as topics I pitch to publications. My life has been a roller coaster filled with delights and roadblocks, but each situation has given me that “ah-ha” moment and I’ve experienced the reality of each circumstance strengthen my belief in positive journaling.
LuAnn Schindler is a full-time freelance journalist living on the eastern slope of the Nebraska Sandhills on a dairy farm with 200+ holsteins. She currently blogs for The Muffin, the WOW! Women On Writing daily blog. Her work has appeared in the Pregnancy, 2: The Couples Magazine, Denver Post, Rural Electric Nebraskan, Absolute Write, in addition to other publications. LuAnn is a member of the National Federation of Press Women and Nebraska Press Women.