Journaling – the art of putting down your thoughts and feelings on pen and paper in order to improve your wellbeing – is something every one of us have probably read about. It is considered to be good for mental health and it can be a great way to start the day.
Writing in the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman (author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking), acknowledges the inherent 'cheesiness' that many people associate with journaling and other mood-enhancement techniques.
"The most vivid example is keeping a gratitude journal," he writes. "On the one hand it really helps. On the other hand – well, come on. It's keeping a gratitude journal."
Push through the skepticism, however, and there is a wealth of scientific evidence that supports the idea that journaling is a powerful tool for boosting wellbeing. There is even a study that suggests writing about traumatic experiences for 20 minutes a day can actually speed up the recovery of physical injuries.
Another study – this one from as far back as the mid 1980s – found that people who journaled for 15 minutes every day for six months took fewer visits to the doctor.
A 60-year-old discovery
The idea that writing is good for you is often thought to have originated in New York in the 1960s, when psychotherapist, the late Dr Ira Progoff, began offering workshops that tutored people in his 'Intensive Journal' method. He argued that by writing about our relationships, health, dreams, and history, we get to know ourselves better.
Coming at things from a slightly different angle, mental health professionals who help people with anxiety issues often recommend that sufferers try to recognize negative thoughts for what they are. The goal is to acknowledge them, and some experts – including clinical psychologist Regine Galanti, quoted in an article on self.com – feel that writing them down is a good way to do this.
For creative people, journaling comes highly recommended, too: author Julia Cameron's best-selling book The Artist's Way promotes the idea of what she calls 'Morning Pages' – three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing that promotes clarity and comfort for the (artistic) day ahead.
A welcome relief during dark times
Journaling proved especially popular during the Covid pandemic, not least because people found themselves with fewer things to do and places to go than they normally would. The University of Texas at Austin created a campaign called The Pandemic Project, which encouraged people to write for as little as five to 10 minutes every day about something that was bothering them.
In an online article written during the height of the crisis, meanwhile, CNN editorial director David G. Allan – a lifelong journaler – noted that writing is a highly-effective and extremely cost-effective mental health tool. "Writing out our worries and problems helps us work through them," he wrote. "The act of reflection creates perspective, and articulating an issue is the first step in solving it." It's certainly a lot more affordable than counselling.
All of which brings us to the question: what kind of journaling is the best? Psychology Today lists eight possible examples, including the aforementioned gratitude journaling (writing down what you are thankful for); intuition journaling (in which you write down a question that you want answered, and then jot down your first, gut response); and something that they call 'what-is-going-well journaling'. This is a way to focus on the positives in your life and is intended to make daily annoyances seem more trivial by comparison.
Forming a happy ritual
To get the most out of journaling, it makes sense to decide in advance which approach works best for you, and then set about creating a 'ritual'. The MyHealthJournals website, which sells a number of luxurious notebooks aimed at people who take their journaling seriously, suggests finding the perfect spot in the home that is relaxing and free from distractions.
As for your writing medium, the world is your oyster. If your goal is to get down as many thoughts in the shortest possible time, some journalers recommend using a laptop. WebMD, however, suggest trying it with pen and paper first. They state that writing it out on paper helps to process feelings better – and is also a good choice for someone who wants to add sketches or drawings.
While scraps of old paper and a biro pen will certainly be sufficient to get started, one way to get the most out of journaling is to really make an event of it. Think beautiful, hand-made paper and, perhaps, a luxurious Mont Blanc pen.
Now all you have to do is put up the 'do not disturb' sign, take a sip of coffee... and let the unloading begin.
Discover Stora Enso's writing papers as well as other office papers here.