Increase Your Happiness with Daily Journaling

Paul Arterburn
Startup Lessons Learned
4 min readApr 18, 2016


Why I built a journaling service that you might actually use, too.

History is littered with examples of successful (and unsuccessful) people who kept daily journals. It ranges from Marcus Aurelius to Ben Franklin, and from Mark Twain to George Lucas.
- What My Morning Journal Looks Like by Tim Ferriss

A sad diary day.

The Why

I was a near-daily user for 3 years of a journaling service called OhLife that shut down in Oct 2014. It was like Facebook’s On This Day or TimeHop, but for your extremely personal entries that you would never otherwise remember because you didn’t post them on Facebook or Twitter. It was a unique and effective way to journal because everything happened over email, which was already part of my daily process. I didn’t have to install an app, I wasn’t forced to type with only my thumbs, I didn’t get tired of the notifications — it was accessible via my favorite email client, whatever & wherever that might be.

I quickly built Dabble Me as a replacement so I could keep up my habit.

Dabble Me — a private place to write. Remember what’s happened in your life.

A few use cases of Journaling

  • Daily Dabble — reflections from your day is the most popular use case of any journal. I use Dabble Me as a mindfulness practice, almost as a form of meditation (the typical meditation apps didn’t stick for me). I highly recommend trying while you write! However, this type of journaling can be a scary one to get started with, so if self-reflection is overwhelming to even think about, keep reading.
  • Memory keeper for major events/milestones — we easily forget. Write it down now and the daily emails will bring you smiles when it reminds you of all your favorite moments. I started journaling when I first met my wife almost 5 years ago — I took 5 minutes to write about all of the dates we went on. Reading those past entries to each other has become a routine that deepens our relationship now.
  • Goal Tracking — use #hashtags in your posts for easily tagging entries with your different goals.
  • Learning Aid — especially for learning to code or different college courses. The concept of past entries in your inbox is a way of reminding you what you learned that day. It makes the subject matter much more sticky so you actually remember it.
  • Baby’s Firsts — use it to track the progress of your children. Pictures go great with this one. Jot down notes and add a photo so you can easily put together a scrapbook later.
  • Health Journal — there’s a lot of information sharing that happens when you visit a doctor. They need to know specific things like the last time you had a certain vaccine shot or when you had LASIK done. Personally, I try to keep all of this info in a separate Evernote notebook, but it’s not something I remember to do every time. Replying to the daily Dabble Me email with results from the visit will make things much easier to find the next time you need to know. Simply search for your #health entries!

The Tech behind Dabble Me

I launched Dabble Me just a few days after building a minimum viable product (MVP) because I knew it was important to get this to market quickly as an option for the plethora of OhLife users wanting a replacement. The interesting thing about the shutdown of this seemingly free service was that their users were publically declaring they would pay to keep OhLife afloat. Product/market fit was sitting right there for any technical entrepreneur to take it.

Here’s the technical details and costs associated with the product:

  • Open-sourced Ruby on Rails app (free on Github)
  • Hosted on Heroku ($16/mo for server + database)
  • Served with CloudFlare for SSL support (free)
  • Mailgun sends and parses incoming emails (free up to 50k emails/mo)
  • Pictures are converted and stored on Amazon S3 (5gb in free tier)

As you can tell, the biggest cost here is my time. As a devoted user myself of the platform, it’s an app I built to “scratch my own itch”. It’s been a fun project to deepen my knowledge of Ruby on Rails and be able to add additional features that I had always hoped OhLife could do (like a Year In Review).

Part of my 2015 Year in Review — I’ve got some work to do!

Other options

If you’re not into a digitized version of your journal, check out Five Minute Journal or the The Artist’s Way. Whichever journal method you choose, there’s plenty of support that suggests spending some time writing daily is a great way to add some clarity to your life.

If you’d like to take Dabble Me for a spin to see if it’s the right fit for you, simply head over to and sign up — it’s free to try.



Paul Arterburn
Startup Lessons Learned

Director of Engineering for @Unreasonable, maker of http://Dabble.Me, co-founder of @Brandfolder