Write for your Life
Ten keys to Happiness and how journaling helps with all of them, yes, all of them!
Last year in January I completed my Mental Health First Aid training with MHFA England. I summarised what I learned here, the summary of which is that it was great. I’d recommend you do it however much you may think you know, especially if you support a team in any way. There isn't a summary of the 'summary of' - sorry.
The Action for Happiness ‘Ten keys to happier living’ featured in the MHFA resources (which are excellent by the way - here’s the 'resources for workplace' page) and I wanted to talk about how journaling can help with all of them. Yes, all of them…
Asking for help
I know this isn’t one of the ten, but as it’s pretty important, I’d like to throw it in for good measure. We’re always told to ask for help and it’s one of the most important things I’ve learned, and am still learning. It can be hard if we’re not ready to ask - or even know what it is we need to ask for. So, if you find it hard to 'just talk to someone,' try writing first and see if it helps. It will externalise what’s inside your head at the very least, and that can give you some relief and perspective. Please also see the resources at the end for further help, of which there is much available.
So, here we go, here are the 'Ten keys to happiness' and how journaling can help.
1. Relating (Connect with people)
Journaling connects you to yourself - and others
Writing has connected me to myself more than any other intervention. Seeing my internal landscape on the page has helped me to understand myself, my patterns, express and care for myself and so much more. It also connects people to each other and that’s why I run 'Write for your Life' Creative group journaling workshops; to bring people together, to write, to share, to connect, oh, and to have fun too. Plug over (more on this at the end), onto the next.
2. Exercising (Take care of your body)
Journaling is good for your physical as well as mental health
Bear with me on this one… Firstly, you’re moving your body when you write, well your hand at least. Also, you need to go to the shop to buy a notebook and pen, and you’re moving when you do that. OK, OK, I’m stretching the boundaries of the definition of ‘exercise.’ But I’m not finished. Listen to this. Writing stuff down can even heal you physically. There’s research to indicate that writing expressively (about what happens in your life, how you feel etc.) can help some people to heal quicker and can even help improve the symptoms of things like Asthma… I know!
3. Awareness (Live life mindfully)
Journaling raises your awareness with every word you write
One of my favourite books is ‘Awareness’ by Anthony de Mello. In short, it’s the answer to everything. If you can be aware, you can be more present in your life and ultimately enjoy it more. Journaling absolutely raises awareness by the very act of doing it. The more you do, the more deeply you can become aware of all the lovely ways you’re getting in your own way.
4. Giving (Do kind things for others)
Journaling takes care of you first
I know that 'Giving' in this context is about helping other people, but by writing, you're giving yourself much needed attention and kindness and as we all know, we have to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. Also, when you’re writing with other people and sharing (oh no, another plug...), you’re also listening, which is truly the greatest gift of all. Just think about how you feel when someone really listens to you.
5. Trying out (Keep learning new things)
Journaling can bring forward the things you want to try
Even if you’ve given journaling a go before, trying something again when you’re further down the road can be a completely different experience. Also, journaling itself can surface the things you’ve always wanted to try, or to surface your long-forgotten creativity that’s been stuck in a dusty box feeling lonesome. Finally, you will learn new things about yourself every time you pick up a pen.
6. Direction (Have goals to look forward to)
Journaling helps you to set your course and stay on it
Journaling can help you to reflect on what it is you’re lacking and what you’d like more, or less of. I’m a big fan of setting themes, which is really about setting an intention of what you want when you don’t know exactly how you’re going to get it. For example, you may know you want more joy in your life. A theme leaves you open to receiving joy from anywhere rather than a specific goal that limits you and may not even give you what it is you want. If goals are your thing, then journaling can support you in defining what you want, checking-in on progress and learning as you go. Click here for more on themes.
7. Meaning (Be part of something bigger)
Journaling helps you understand what’s meaningful to you, and connect you to it
Oooh where to begin on this contentious subject. Meaning, purpose, finding your Ikigai, there’s no doubt you’ve fallen foul of feeling that you should have your ‘thing’ otherwise you are doomed. Well, I don’t know the answer but it does seem that our wise ones tell us we have to develop and make meaning through our experiences, and not look for it in a shiny package ‘over there.’ Journaling is brilliant for reflecting on events, experiences or just your day to day life. You can simply ask yourself questions like, ‘what did I actually enjoy,’ or ‘what energised me.’ A mentor once told me that learned skills zap your energy, whilst natural skills energise you. I’ve found this to be a good guide to following and developing my meaning.
8. Resilience (Have ways to bounce back)
Journaling is your 24/7 best friend
Awareness is the gateway to resilience and writing helps you to become aware of your patterns and feelings. Plus, having somewhere to get emotions and feelings out rather than keeping them in is critical and writing is great for that. Once you can see your experience on the page, it's easier to separate yourself from it and know that it's not 'you,' which can build confidence. True, there is alot more work that goes into building resilience and lots of other things have helped me on the journey in addition to writing. Not least Martin Seligman’s book ‘Learned Optimism.’
9. Emotions (Look for what’s good)
Journaling raises your awareness of what you’re actually feeling
Quite simply, writing about what makes you happy, brings you joy or makes you feel grateful, makes you feel better. Simple. I also find that writing about nature is a guaranteed way to lift my mood. However, I’ve also found writing to be a great way to express, contain and soothe my less welcome emotions. But before all of that, I first had to identify them and, until I wrote, I had no idea how often I didn’t know what I was feeling. ‘I’m feeling angry’ can be a revelation, especially as sadness and anger hide behind each other. Even just writing, ‘I’m feeling angry’ can bring relief. Saying it out loud takes things to the next level.
10. Acceptance (Be comfortable with who you are)
Journaling leads to acceptance
Seeing your words - yourself on paper - helps you to see what’s going on for you and to separate the experience from your identity. Think, ‘I’m experiencing anxiety’ vs ‘I’m anxious.’ The clearer you are on what’s transient and ‘out there’ the easier it will be to connect and accept who you are. You can literally write your way to forgiving, loving and supporting yourself. I’m not saying this is easy and I had many years of therapy to help along the way. It’s still a work in progress, but whilst I may not essentially have changed, my relationship with myself is unrecognisable.
So that’s it - that’s the ten. I hope I’ve convinced you to at least give journaling a try. I'd love to hear your experiences.
If you’d like a copy of my journaling guide ‘Write when you like,’ give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on the benefits of writing and journaling, click here.
For more information about the workshops and courses I run publicly and for organisations, click here for more info.
For more information on ‘Write for your Life’ Creative group journaling sessions, where no grammar or writing experience is required, click here.
If you’d like to chat to me about any of the above, coaching, or helping others to build their journaling practice, do give me a shout at email@example.com.
Good luck and remember to ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!’
Life can be hard. You are not alone. Be kind to yourself. Ask for help.
Samaritans: 116 123 - 24/7 firstname.lastname@example.org
Free online counselling: https://www.italk.org.uk