Ever have one of those days? You know the ones. Where everything is going wrong, it’s the end of the world, and you spilled your coffee. A stranger just looks at you with a grimace and that’s it! Day ruined. Perhaps you’re lucky and these days come singularly, few and far between. Maybe you’re taxed with the burden these bad days carry for weeks at a time. Either way we’ve all been there. I used to exercise as my escape, but sometimes it didn’t solve the trick. The problem was, I wasn’t quite sure what about my bad day was bothering me at the time.
One fall day in 2017 I bought a black journal on a whim. I sat on the dock next to a pond and just listened. I felt the warm sun beat down on my fleece sweater. I smelt the fresh cut grass. I heard a goose I called Albert quack about on the earth across the pond. I dipped my toes in the water and really focused on the sensation the water created on my toes. How the water rippled across the entire pond showing I was there.
I like to take a few minutes to explore the present surroundings before I write about the past or the future. If you’re writing in an ugly place, say the red line metro on a dated subway car that most definitely has been peed in once before, well focus on how your body feels. Does it feel nice to sit down? Is your shirt soft against your skin? What noise do you hear? What are your senses experiencing right this second?
I’ve written in my black journal many times over. Both sober and leveled. I personally like to write clear and sober half of my entries, and the other half I follow the essence of Hemingway who once said “write drunk, edit sober.” Well, there certainly is merit in writing after a smoke session and reading the entry the next day. It’s liberating to free yourself from the weight of burdens you didn’t realize were draining your energy and happiness.
I suggested to my friend that he try to write and see if he could figure out the root cause of what was bothering him. He was feeling stressed and sad, but couldn’t tell what stressor was holding up his happiness. He also had no idea where to start.
Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling for your journaling to happiness: (disclaimer, I am not a psychologist. The aim of this entry is to help you discover yourself, learn what your present looks like, and find happiness your own way, the way I did. If you feel worried or sad and it is disrupting your day-to-day life, you should talk to a psychologist).
If you’re feeling a little blue, try writing about:
- What you’re thankful for
- What you did that day
- It could show you what’s upsetting if you find yourself harping on one moment of your day
- What you think happiness would look like (this will change no doubt as time goes on, this isn’t a commitment, this is just an exploration)
- If you know what is causing your unhappiness, but don’t know how to proceed, write it out.
- As simple as:
- What is the problem
- What can you do, how can you use your agency
- Why do you feel this way
- Why is this situation this way
- As simple as:
If you’re already happy and just want to explore yourself more, I write about:
- Am I achieving my goals?
- If yes, how’d I do it?
- If no, what can I change to steer myself back on track
- One liners about people I’m thankful for and why I’m thankful for them
- Where and why would you travel next?
- A childhood memory that pops up, just write it down and explore
- Sometimes I’ll write about a dream world I’ve made up. It helps me see where I am currently.
If you’re feeling lost, at any age,
though I know those in their early twenties-recent graduates- may feel especially lost, write down where you’d like to go with your life. It’s helpful to explore your options through words, manifest an intangible chaotic feeling in to readable words you can control and explore.
If you’re on the other end of the spectrum -retirement crowd- it’s helpful to reflect on achievements and people whose lives you’ve touched throughout the course of your decades on earth. Aging is beautiful, use your writing to celebrate.
We look in the mirror to see our physical changes. Whether you’ve been working hard at the gym or you’re simply an observer of how your body changes as time passes by, you look to a reflection of yourself to observe. Why not look to a journal to read the story of your life and see your internal/ mental/ spiritual/ behavioral changes?
What prompts do you use when journaling? Post your suggestions in the comments below.