The Perks of Writing a Diary

For most people, journaling is a habit associated with kids or teenagers, and diaries are usually defined as a daily record of events and experiences. But diaries are not restricted to these reports and could be a powerful tool to anyone; they can capture the feelings, epiphanies and thoughts about life. A diary can be used to organize ideas and for therapeutic reasons.

One of the most famous diaries in the world belongs to Anne Frank. The Diary of a Young Girl shows the history and resistance of a thirteen-year-old girl during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. It documents her life in hiding from Nazis’ hunting for Jewish. She had some doubts about the reach of her writing, but she touched millions of people, with sincere perspective of war and the courage to face them.

Unlike Frank, my first diary has not historic interest for the public. I started writing my first diary in 2012, when I was in Portugal for an Exchange semester. The first page describes the autumn’s cold (unknown for a Brazilian girl used to the warm weather), and my impressions of Europe. I was twenty two years old and I was living my biggest dream, studying abroad, discovering new things and facing the unknown in a completely different country. Since then, I’ve always carried my journal with me, and it contains a huge amount of traveling plans, the descriptions of the places that I’ve been and the people I’ve met. I’ve also attached flight and train tickets, photos and postcards. It was the most effective way to save all of this information for the future and to capture the moments I was going through.

When I get back to those writings, I revive memories and stories, but most of all I revive the contradictory feelings that I had: fear and excitement, wonder and shock. After four years, I’ve completed two more diaries. I continue to write about my feelings and the importance of every single thing that happened to me. But I also write my dreams, reflect on things that I’ve accomplished in my life and the things that I want to fix in my future. On my diary, I try to understand the source of my problems and difficulties, and what kind of solutions could be applied. These texts allowed me to know much more about my own self and my beliefs.

According to Marina da Costa Vasconcelos, psychologist and author of the book “Quando a psicoterapia trava” (translated from Portuguese as “When psychotherapy gets locked”), a diary can help with getting things off chest, organizing the ideas and deliberating about life decisions. “On paper, there’s no guilt, the feelings flow and the solutions come easily”.

Journaling provides deep investigation about the events in our lives. Describing these areas in detail help us identify what is not making us happy and how it can be changed; it makes us face pain and suffering and put some efforts to solve them. Recent researches conducted by psychologist James Pennebaker, in University of Texas, reveal that people that cultivate the habit of writing are healthier, have less arterial pressure and have more power to concentrate, memorize and make decisions. Pennebaker explains that bad emotions have negative impact on the body, causing stress and diseases. “Writing helps people understand and organize the events. After that, they sleep better, the stress levels drop and it becomes easier to socially interact with friends and relatives. All those things improve physical health”.

Writing can also contribute to happiness through gratitude. The American presenter Oprah Winfrey advocates the power of being grateful through a gratitude journal, writing down five things that you are grateful for every day. “I know for sure that appreciating whatever shows up for you in life changes your personal vibration. You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you’re aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots”. When you focus on the good things that happen to you, you become motivated and get hopeful perspectives of life.

Another benefit of keeping a diary is improving writing skills. In the book Writer’s Diary, Virginia Woolf discusses the importance of journaling as a method of practicing or trying out the art of writing. According to Woolf, “the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice; it loosens the ligaments; never mind the misses and the stumbles”.

But what is the difference between journaling and posting on social media? Once you post your ideas on Facebook, Twitter or blog they become public, subjected to criticism and judgement. Due this fact, people tend to be less sincere with the truth. According to the Brazilian psychologist Maura de Albanesi, when interviewed by Minha Vida Magazine, “publishing our thoughts, subject them to public analysis, and hearing criticism from others can limit our own judgment and reflection”. Journaling in private is more favorable to a complete investigation of the problems and people involved, giving a sincere perspective of the theme. A blog post reflects just a small part of the truth and could not be helpful as a self-analysis tool. It is important to understand that different people have a diverse perspective of problems, so if you are feeling that you need a second opinion, maybe therapy could be a better alternative.

If you are not prepared for therapy or if you just want to write your thoughts, a diary will help a lot. It may be difficult at first, but it will become a habit as time passes. In 2015, the website Buzzfeed made an experiment that proposed to people to write a diary for thirty days straight. At the beginning, the participants were confused, as they didn’t know exactly what to write about. Then, they started to write about their inner thoughts, questions about life and the weirdest ideas they had. After the first week, it became easier and they claimed that it helped with creativity and personal problems. Some of the participants said that they felt great with writing and would keep the diary in the future.

With so many benefits, it is truly recommended to start a diary to clarify thoughts and feelings, know yourself better, solve problems and make decisions. After journaling, I’m feeling much more calm and happy (and I stopped freaking out all the time). Just a few moments daily are necessary to write down what is going through your mind, even if you are being grateful for something that happened or facing tough times. There are no concerns about spelling, punctuation and grammar. Just be sincere, a journal can become a best friend (even if you don’t want to call it “Dear Diary”). And it is the cheapest therapy you can get.