Tag Archives: diary

The Case for Journals

As someone who has kept a diary on and off since the age of 4, I can vouch for the fact that reading about everyday events from the past is really wonderful. It is a pleasure to see when and how I was writing, what I was focusing on, who I mention in my entries. It’s also nice to be able to “account for” my days throughout the years when I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday. In fact, I just realized, while typing this, that I haven’t yet had lunch today!

This article from the NY Times’ OpTalk page (which happily cites Pennebaker, of course), looks into new research that shows that “recording our run-of-the-mill, daily experiences, rather than just our highs and lows, could bring us unexpected joy.” Ting Zhang and colleagues asked people to write two short journal entries (what they did and how they felt): one on Valentine’s Day and another on a “regular” day. Subjects were then asked to rate how “extraordinary” each day was – and how much they felt they would enjoy reading each entry in the future. Perhaps because the afterglow from boxes of chocolate is so strong, subjects did not feel that they would enjoy recounting their everyday experiences as much as they would a “special” day. However, according to the study, “ordinary events came to be perceived as more extraordinary over time, whereas perceptions of extraordinary events did not change across time.”

There is a certain beauty in the time capsule that is a journal and, if you use a traditional book and a pen, that beauty comes nicely packaged in your own handwriting. (Handwriting can be enjoyable to examine, as well – messy writing from journaling on a bumpy train while abroad; neat writing while penning a swooning entry about your new love interest.) Looking back on how you mentioned your fiancé in an entry well before you really got to know each other, or smiling while you remember that you used to do the dishes every night together before you got a dishwasher, or reading about how much you used to hate waking up for the class that led you to choose your current career – these are unique glimpses of the sweetness and serendipity of our lives.

Hindsight is hardly 20/20. As we move down a road, the things behind us get smaller and distorted. Reading our own words, from a “real-time” journal entry, helps us to avoid needing to squint as we look backwards on our own journey. We don’t need to piece together the fuzzy clues and memories; we can read it right there on the page. Even glancing back over your Day Planner as the year comes to a close can be rewarding. It’s pretty cool to know that you on April 18, you met your brother for coffee at that place you’d been meaning to try, and on October 2, you and your partner went to dinner with his cousins. Rereading journals, noting these little moments that might have been missed memories, instead cements them in our brains, allowing them to become part of our personal narrative. At the very least, they become a nice thing to reflect on.

Day slip by, weeks race on, years pass in a blink. We can’t control it, but we can use journals to be more mindful of the time we have. So find the type of journal that works for you and give it a try.

This research does more than support my love for recording life. It supports my true belief that even, and especially, in the “ordinary” lives the “extraordinary.” It’s just a matter of how you look at it and, perhaps, when.

The Case for Journals: Types of Journals

Interested in keeping a journal? Some journal types to try:

– Basic Journal: pen and paper, generally bound in a book. Write as much or as little as you’d like. Skip a week or write twice a day. Record daily events, record “extraordinary” days. Maybe include some Doodles. Up to you.

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– Art Journal: often pen and a book, as well, this is mostly drawings. Can be used to harness your creative thoughts, or to record the Basic Journal events using visual art.

– Poetry Journal: no need to show this to anyone. But if you liked writing poetry as a teenager, and sometimes feel like you don’t have the creative outlet that is right for you, give this a shot.

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– Phone Journal: we’re on our phones half the day anyway. Open up the Notes apps, or find a journal app, and use the moments on line at the store, or a few evening minutes as you wind down from the day, to type out a few thoughts on your personal current events.

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– Computer Journal (aka The Doogie Journal): if you, like Doogie Howser, would prefer to wind down each day by entering your thoughts and lessons-learned onto your computer, go for it! You may want to password-protect, and be sure not to use your work laptop for this purpose.

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– Gratitude Journal/Went-Well Journal: as I mentioned in my last post, these journals can be very relaxing – and they are proven to increase your happiness levels. Every night (or morning), jot down 3-5 things for which you are grateful from that day. (For Well Wells, write 3-5 things that, yep, went well that day.) These can be serious things (“Sara’s biopsy results were fine.”) or more day-to-day gratitudes (“Nick made the bed this morning.”). With a few days, the results of priming yourself to seek out more things for the list (i.e., priming yourself to find the positives in every day), will be evident.

– Day Planner (aka Tiny Writing Journal): maybe you already keep a Day Planner or use a calendar/scheduler online or on your computer (I do both, but that’s another story), and maybe you don’t want to have another book to think about every day. No worries. Just make sure to record some personal stuff, in addition to your professional obligations. (Note: be sure to do this in a private way; your colleagues don’t need to see that Wednesday at 9pm is “snuggle time” every time they try to schedule a meeting with you.) Easy things to note: what you ate for lunch or dinner, what you wore, who you talked to on the train, what the weather was like, and for all of these, how you felt about it. Easy entrée into the world of journaling. When you get tired of squeezing your thoughts into writing small enough to fit into the little calendar boxes, I suggest finding a thin Moleskine or Muji notebook and starting with the Basic Journal! You’ll be smiling about last June’s trip to the beach in no time.

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Muji Notebooks: 4 for $4
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Moleskine notebooks: 3 for $8.95; each book has pockets and some pages are detachable