5 ways keeping a journal can change your life


journaling isn’t just some silly time-waster for children

If you’re skeptical about the idea of journaling (perhaps you’re thinking of a childhood diary covered in pink hearts and an easily pickable lock), you should probably know that in recent years, ideas around journaling have shifted. In fact, the idea of what a journal even is has shifted. Sure, there are good old pen-and-paper journals, but there are also online journals, journaling apps, food journals, dream journals, and just about any other variety of journal you can think of.

And journaling isn’t just some silly time-waster for children. It has actually been shown that journaling makes people happier, healthier, and more creative and effective. So if you want to improve your quality of life, journaling might be a good place to start. Here are a few reasons to consider it.

It’s good for your mental health

“Journal therapy” is a real, recognized counselling technique. Journaling has been shown to help people manage stress, depression, and anxiety, and to aid in processing traumatic events. Dr. Steve Joordens, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough, told the Huffington Post how he uses journaling to help depression patients battle against negative thoughts. “Sometimes in therapy we ask depressed people to journal, but they’re not allowed to write about anything negative. They can only write about positive things that happen, how it made them feel, and that’s a way to get them to attack the negative bias and make them think about the positive things more.”

But you don’t just have to focus on the positive all the time in order to reap the benefits of journaling. A study on the benefits of “focused expressive writing” found that people who journalled several times about traumatic, stressful, or emotional events generally had better psychological outcomes than people who wrote about neutral topics. Your journal is a place to do some emotional deep diving, so don’t hold back.

It will make you physically healthier

It may not surprise you to learn that journaling has been shown to have mental health benefits, but, less predictably, it has also been shown to improve physical health. Studies have indicated that people who regularly engage in “expressive writing” make less illness-related doctor’s visits, have reduced blood pressure, and have improved liver and lung function. Journaling has also been shown to improve immune function, and an article in the Oncologist showed that cancer patients who performed expressive writing exercises before appointments had a better physical quality of life than people who didn’t.

Physical health and emotional health are inherently linked, which means you can’t reach peak physical health without taking care of your mind. So supplement your trips to the gym with a few sessions at the writing desk. Your body will thank you.

It can help you track and meet your goals

The “dear diary” style of journaling may be the most well known, but it isn’t the only way to fill a notebook. There are actually all kinds of journals that can be used in many different of ways, including goal journals.

You probably know first-hand that when your goals are half-formed ideas floating around in your brain, they have a tendency to get lost, forgotten, or just plain not finished. But setting out specific goals and mapping your progress toward them is surprisingly effective. Lots of people also keep work diaries, where they note their progress and what has worked well for them and what hasn’t. Not only does a work diary make you more effective and productive, but it also comes in handy when you need an arsenal of achievements to whip out at your next performance review.

It can help you find your sense of gratitude

Where does happiness come from? We modern humans tend to make a lot of mistakes when it comes to answering this question. We think happiness comes from things, from the right job, from financial stability, or from achievements. But science has shown that happiness is linked to something much simpler: a sense of gratitude.

Of course, being grateful isn’t the first instinct for all of us, especially when times are tough, which is why gratitude journals are so helpful. They help us flex that gratitude muscle, making us more aware of the good things in our lives. Journalers are encouraged to write about something every day that they are thankful for. Do you love your daily cup of coffee, the smell it makes as it brews, the splash of cream and cube of sugar that make it feel like a treat? Or are you thankful for the city you live in, the closeness of friends, or even the floor-seat Beyoncé tickets you managed to score? Then journal about it. You might see just how much there is to be happy about.

It will make you a better writer

Some people use journals as a dumping ground for whatever they’re feeling and thinking, but others use them to create art. There’s no right way to journal, but if you’re an aspiring writer, the pages of your journal can be your training ground. Plenty of famous writers keep journals, and some—Jack Kerouac, Anaïs Nin, Sylvia Plath—even end up publishing them. If you’re looking for raw material to write about, your life is a good place to start. Your journal will become a storehouse for that material, so the next time you’re looking for inspiration for a writing project, you’ll have a huge archive of thoughts and ideas to draw from.