I Tried Journaling Every Day to Feel Happier and *Wow* Did It Not Work

journaling cat

Let’s say you’re a middle school teacher. You spend five days a week wrangling 12-year-olds. Now let’s say someone suggests that, as a hobby, you try volunteering to tutor seventh graders. Isn’t that what I do all day, you might think. How could that benefit me? That’s how I’ve always felt about journaling. See, I write at least 1,000 words a day. The idea that writing even more could make me a happier, more creative and productive person always sounded, well, exhausting.

But, in the spirit of experimentation (and for the sake of writing something I’d actually get paid for), I set out to journal every day for two weeks. I so wish I could tell you I am a new person who scoffs at the fact that I ever rolled my eyes at journaling (for my own purposes), but folks, it was a struggle. Read on for a chronicle of my failed attempt, plus some reasons you might want to try journaling—if it’s not incredibly similar to the job you get paid to do.

The ‘One-Word Journal’ Is Self-Care for Lazy People

What Are the Benefits of Journaling?

1. It Might Make You Happier

A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Michigan showed that, among people with major depression,  journaling for 20 minutes a day lowered their depression scores significantly.

2. It Can Improve Your Communication Skills

Communication is one of those things we could probably all stand to get a little better at. Journaling is one way to do so. Why? It’s a way to practice translating your thoughts into words. According to a Stanford University report, “Both research in the field of writing and writing pedagogy have been built to a large extent on the premise that, as a fundamental discourse process, writing has critical connections to speaking.” Basically, writing can make you a better speaker—simple as that.  

3. It Can Help You Be More Mindful

Sitting down and letting your thoughts and ideas flow out of your brain and into a notebook is a great way be mindful. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a molecular biologist and meditation teacher, mindfulness is an “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” Proponents say that mindfulness meditation can contribute to stress reduction, improved sleep, heightened focus and increased creativity, just to name a few. According to a 2018 study published in BMJ Openanxiety may increase the risk of developing cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. But study authors suggest that meditative practices like mindfulness (which has been shown to help control anxiety) could potentially reduce this risk.

How My Journaling Experiment Went

I wanted to like journaling, I really did. I imagined myself as a protagonist in a Nancy Meyers movie, wearing a long cardigan and sipping a cup of tea (that I’d have to hold with both hands—dainty!) while staring contemplatively out the window at my bucolic 42-acre property in New England and jotting down my thoughts in a journal I’d pass down to my daughters and granddaughters (or, more my speed, turn into a book, the profits of which I’d spend on my child-free self). Alas, it wasn’t in the cards for me.

Like with morning meditation, I set out to journal every day for two weeks straight. Unlike meditation, I never got into a routine. I tried journaling first thing in the morning, in the middle of the day and before I went to bed. When I say journaling, by the way, I mean this: I’d leave my phone in another room, sit down with my cutest notebook (this pretty one from Rifle Paper Co.) and try to put pen to paper for ten to 15 minutes.

Some days I found myself regurgitating the events of my day: ‘I woke up kind of late today and felt super tired, then I made coffee and got to work.’ (Snooze.) Other days I went more meta and wrote about how much I wasn’t liking journaling: ‘I don’t understand what people get out of this. What am I even supposed to be writing?’   

It’s important to note that I take responsibility for this experiment flopping: I write for a living, meaning my brain has filed any kind of writing as ‘work.’ Journaling, from what I’ve heard from others, isn’t supposed to feel like work at all. It’s supposed to be a creative outlet where you’re free to do or say whatever you want. And I really can see it being that for someone who’s less used to writing every day. Even though my attempts at journaling have fallen short of life-changing, I’d still recommend it to anyone who doesn’t do what I do.

But wait…did I just successfully journal by writing this? Just let me have this win, OK?

9 Signs You Might Need (and Qualify for) a Sleep Study

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...