Journaling: Build Happiness in 4 Minutes

Jotting down reflections has been shown to improve happiness and wellbeing. Perhaps it’s time to pick up a journal again?

Dan Murray-Serter
Jun 14, 2019 · 3 min read
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Dear diary, it’s me. Dan. Today I ate eggs (again) and wrote a weekly newsletter to a community of people invested in the health of their brains.

With the dawn of the internet and social media, journalling has gone out of fashion. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are documented online instead, through the lens of a glossy filter. However, using a pen and paper to jot down reflections has been shown to improve happiness and wellbeing. Perhaps it’s time to pick up a journal again?

What’s the evidence?

531 entries later, the results were clear.

Journaling was shown to be an effective tool for boosting happiness. Even better, 93% of the participants felt confident that they could integrate simple journalling exercises into their daily routine.

Get Happy. Write On.

  • Reduce depression, anxiety, and stress
  • Cope with emotions
  • Create focus
  • Develop insight
  • Reflect on behaviour or feelings

Journaling doesn’t need to be a chore where you write in a book that you hide under your pillow (or, um — place on your bedside table). You just need a method that allows you to reflect on past and future experiences.

Some ideas to get started:

Practice gratitude. Gratitude can make you happier, improve relationships, counteract depression, and boost your health. I note 3 things from the day I’m grateful for every night before I go to sleep. Make this a daily habit with this gratitude app.

Enhance your “to do” list. Instead of just a list of things you need to do, write about a few ways you’d like to connect with people in your life. In my last company, I got everyone to work on their “to be” lists, which was a really helpful way to encourage people to stay true to themselves and reach their potential.

Prime yourself. Take 30 seconds every morning before leaving the bed to ask yourself: “Where will my joy come from today?”. Note down a few ideas, regardless of how small: making pancakes, going for a walk, petting a cat (guaranteed joy).

And… How Often?

The Harvard crew I mentioned earlier found that all you need to experience a significant dose of instant happiness is a pen, a journal, and at least four minutes.

The researchers distilled their findings into three exercises. For brevity’s sake, I’ve summed up the study’s ultimate crowd pleaser. If all you do is practice this, you’ll be set.

Reliving Happy Moments, a.k.a. Instagram circa 1980

  1. Dig up a picture of a specific happy memory. Stare longingly at said photo. Steep in your emotions.
  2. Crystallize the memory in words. Get specific. Who was there? Where were you? Maximum detail produces maximum happiness.
  3. Scribble your description in a notebook. Bonus points for penning sonnets or whipping out Top-40 ballads.

Four minutes might not seem like much but 93% of participants said happiness was worth the time investment. You decide.

If you enjoyed this article, why not sign up to my weekly newsletter. I share actionable, science-backed tips to improve your brain’s health and output.

The Obscured

Make the unknown known.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store