The simple act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) can have a huge impact on your happiness. This is because writing helps you organize and clarify your thoughts and feelings. Over time, they will help you improve your habitual patterns of thinking. Here are four journal exercises that can help you think in ways that will boost your emotional well-being in as little as five minutes a day.
Three Good Things
At the end of each day, write down three good things that happened that day and why they happened. They can be something as small as seeing a clear blue sky or a beautiful flower. If you can’t think of anything, check whether you are breathing. That’s good, isn’t it? The goal of this exercise is to reorient your thinking towards the positive things in your life. It may take a week or so, but when you find yourself going about your daily life and thinking, “Ah, that can be one of my good things tonight,” you’ll know the exercise is working.
The Gratitude Log is similar to the Three Good Things exercise, except it doesn’t have to be something that happened that day. Each day for two weeks, write down three things you are grateful for: perhaps a person in your life, a favorite TV show, or the fact that you have fresh water on tap or that you’re relatively safe. As you write these down, try to create a feeling of gratitude in your body.
Your Best Possible Self
Take a few moments to imagine your best self, many years from now. Everything turned out the way you wanted it; you’ve achieved everything you want to achieve and do everything you’ve wanted to do by this point, and you’re supremely satisfied. Now take this vision and write about it for 20 minutes. Do this exercise for three consecutive days, starting from scratch each time. Psychologists believe this exercise works because it helps you to refine and clarify what you want, and gives you the inspiration to work towards your goals.
Intensely Positive Experience
Instead of looking at your best future self, in this exercise, you’ll look to your past. Think about an intensely positive experience you had. It can be big or small: maybe the moment you realized you were in love, how you felt when you heard your favorite song for the first time, a childhood experience, or the moment you were “hit” by a book. Write about this experience in as much detail as possible, including thoughts, sights, sounds, and feelings. Try to evoke the emotions you felt at the time. Do this for 20 minutes a day, three days in a row. You can use the same experience or a different one each day.
It’s tempting to think of happiness as a result of circumstances, something that comes after a positive life experience such as a promotion, vacation, or just a good time spent with friends. This is partly true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story; the way you think about these experiences will influence your emotional response to them. These written exercises are like practice runs for positive patterns of thinking. If you keep doing them, they will become habitual and you’ll feel happier from day to day.
For more on the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, read our past blog post. How often do you write about the things you’re thankful for?