I have been keeping my “happy journal” for the past 10 years at the suggestion of an old friend of mine. It is the opposite of the typical journal where you write all of the events in your life- good and bad- that occur. I found that while typical journaling help me get “out” the bad stuff that happens, I don’t really have a use for it later on. Reading over the bad stuff is boring or depressing. At best, the journals are informational. I enjoy reading through them to see how I’ve matured (it’s slightly embarrassing), but yeah… mostly I find them to be a space hog. For me, I’ve also found that writing bad stuff can be more problematic than helpful as I tend to ruminate over it more. Focusing on the good is more helpful for me…
So this journal is basically that. Good. I write either long journal entries about positive events or brief sentences (more typical) about moments in my life that I’ve enjoyed. I add it favorite quotes (usually funny things someone has said, like when my 3 year old tells me I have an empty belly as he peers closely into my belly button) or foods or smells (ie. the smell of cotton candy at the fair), things that will make me smile or put me in a good mood to think about (like the angelic image of my children sleeping).
I add in childhood activities that I loved and would like to do again (ie. flying a kite). I love to add the small stuff… While buying our first home is great, I am more likely to write, “the excitement of having too much space,” “having a place to put everything,” and “putting all of our towels away in our new linen closet” (not sure why, but I am psyched about that).
I also have an area where I write things that I might want to do again if I want a pick me up (or just because)… like go play laser tag.
I try to add to the journal regularly and then read through it when I’m feeling sad or anxious. It never fails to help me feel better and usually I’ll get excited reading through it and remember new things to add to it. It helps me reevaluate a situation and see the positives. It encourages me to look for the “half full” perspective, when I’m feeling more inclined to look at things “half empty.” Sometimes I’ll journal about the positives about a tough situation I am in, but mostly I just focus on other unrelated positives. One thing that’s important about this exercise is not writing any “buts”… for example, “I had so much fun that time at the carnival UNTIL (but) I spilled my ice cream and it ruined my whole night.”
A favorite quote that I added to the front page of my journal:
Concentrating on the positive can be liberating. And it’s helpful. I’ve been working in the mental health field since 2005 (licensed, but internships before that). This change of focus on the positive is our goal, at least in my opinion, in terms of successful mental health treatment for most clients who enter our office.
You could probably do a variation on this as a Thankful Journal if you wanted something seasonal. Or have your kids write in a journal like this about what they’re thankful for whenever you catch them with an attitude. Best part about this journal? If someone finds it and reads it, no big deal!
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February 11, 2015: I decided to take a few minutes to update this post today because I saw this great TED Talk that summarizes why this journal is helpful so perfectly. It’s a bit long, but work friendly, funny, and interesting. And the best part? It’s absolutely true… this is the key to happiness that he’s talking about. Pay attention.