Journaling for Health and Well-Being
Try journaling for a healthy mind. Thirty years of research has consistently weighed in on journaling’s mental-health benefits.
In her book A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever, Marianne Williamson writes that
…journaling is… a tool for cultivating your highest self, as applied not only to weight but to any area of your life. Journaling is a way you listen to yourself, by making it clear to yourself what you actually think and feel. The more room you give yourself to express your true thoughts and feelings, the more room there is for your wisdom to emerge. In listening to yourself, you learn from yourself. In listening deeply to the voice of your heart, you reestablish relationship with your true self, so long denied.
Writing about your feelings demystifies them, keeps them from rolling around and around in your head without arriving anywhere, and gives you a little distance from them. It helps you remember that YOU ARE NOT YOUR FEELINGS. Your higher, purer self is the “you” that God created, and it is that self whose voice provides such honest clarity when you’re journaling.
Occasionally, when I am journaling, my writing segués into an intimacy with God that is tantamount to prayer.
Dreams, Emotions, Gratitude
My practice – which is by no means the only or the best way to go about journaling, and which is therefore continually subject to change— is to sit down at the computer first thing in the morning, every morning (or so… give or take… usually; quite often, sometimes); open my journal document; and set down anything I can remember about my dreams.
According to the Dreams Foundation (www.dreams.ca), dreams “offer a private means to explore inner reality and to gain unique, undeniable, personal experiences.” In addition, “there is overwhelming evidence that [dreams]… can be used to improve waking life,… [offering] opportunities for fun, adventure, wish fulfillment, creativity, deep personal insight and healing, and all this at no cost and with no line-ups!”
Check out the Dreams Foundation website for more information and dream exercises.
CONCERNS, WORRIES, EMOTIONS
After recording the snips of dream I can recall, I write for circa ten minutes about whatever’s bothering me. If I’m thoroughly and completely happy, I express my joy instead… but usually there’s at least one little weed I can nip in the bud. (Do weeds have buds?)
When I was working as the “marketing person” – we didn’t have titles – at an architecture firm, I shared an office with the “graphic-design person,” a real sweetheart who was younger than my youngest child and whose name was David. He was a wizard at design but he didn’t have a lot of experience in marketing or in the special skill of promotional writing – the text for print ads, proposals, reports, and so forth.
My job had recently been created. The employees weren’t used to working with me, so when they wanted ads, media releases, and other marketing services, they strode right past my desk to David’s, whereupon David graciously suggested that they talk with me about the concept and the copy before getting David involved in the design.
David and I worked beautifully together and did a lot of spectacular and effective work, and in due time the satisfied employees returned to our office, walked past me, clapped David on the back, and said, “Great work, Champ,” or words to that effect. It made me crazy, no matter how often I reminded myself that there were people in the world with real problems, matters of life and death, conditions such as famine and epidemics run amok.
So I was both annoyed about being overlooked and ashamed of myself for being annoyed about such a petty grievance. Journaling helped me (a) realize that I had a legitimate concern, and (b) come up with a solution. Here’s a journal excerpt (me talking to me):
Bill Brown did it again — gave the assignment to David, then came to me as David suggested. I reminded BB of the “usual process.” We worked out the ad concept, Bill approved the text, David assembled the ad, and it was perfect – right on the money. And then, as predictably as the night follows the day, BB took David out to lunch, that’s how grateful he was for “a job well done.” I was so furious and so hurt [at being ignored, excluded], I came close to quitting on the spot.
Why were you furious and hurt?
Because I’m at least 50% responsible for the success of the ad, and I want to be given credit where credit is due.
Why? What difference does it make as long as the work is done well?
Because it feels bad to be ignored or overlooked and it feels good to get strokes for good work.
Because it feels good to feel good.
Right, uh-huh. But why do you need the strokes to feel good?
Well, two reasons. First, it reassures me that I really am doing good work. Second, we waste time and lose opportunities. If people came straight to me, we could develop the concept and see if the ad fits in with other marketing the firm is doing or consider supporting the ad in other media.
Why do you want reassurance about your work?
AFTER A FEW MORE questions and answers, it became clear (a) that I was confident about my work and was, in fact, getting positive feedback from David and from my supervisor; and (b) that better coordination — achieved by making me the designated go-to person for marketing and promotion — would probably improve marketing effectiveness and would save resources. A little research confirmed “assumption b,” which became the basis of the proposal I developed and took to my supervisor for discussion, which in turn brought about a well-justified policy change.
JOURNALING FOR GRATITUDE
To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kindness that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.
— Albert Schweitzer
An article on the UMass/Dartmouth website, “The Importance of Gratitude,” offers evidence that feeling grateful is good for your health. Researchers such as Martin Seligman, Robert Emmons, and Michael McCullough are turning their attention to the study of gratitude and its relationship to health and mental well-being. Among other findings, they’ve shown that
- People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercise more regularly, have fewer adverse physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and feel more optimistic about the coming week….
- Daily discussion of gratitude seems to correlate with lower levels of stress and depression, and higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality.
- People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to have helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support.
- Those inclined toward gratitude are less concerned about material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others’ success in terms of wealth, are less envious of wealthy people, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.
- Daily gratitude practices may help prevent coronary artery disease.
BY THE BY…
Wayne Dyer is quoted on mindbodygreen.com as follows:
Be in a state of gratitude for everything that shows up in your life. Be thankful for the storms as well as the smooth sailing. What is the lesson or gift in what you are experiencing right now? Find your joy not in what’s missing in your life but in how you can serve.
If I were Dr. Dyer’s editor, I would argue strenuously for “Be grateful for…” in place of “Be in a state of gratitude for….” Do you agree? Why or why not? (Explain your answer below. It will not count toward your final grade.)
If you are reading this today, June 2, then you will see, to the right of this blog post, a Flickr thumbnail photo of a pregnant woman lying naked on a bed. If you read this tomorrow, or another day that is not today, then I think you can find the full-size photo by clicking here. The photo—“Laid Bare at 37 Weeks”—is breathtaking, but the comments made me weep like a fool… words of goodwill, out there in the cosmos, like starshine….
The photo’ed mama writes, “This weekend has been hell with Violet’s pox (We had to take her to the dr. today as she’s really poorly, turns out her whole mouth is lined in them and she needs antiBs…poor baby).”
Underneath are scores of comments… maybe hundreds… “stunning stunning wonderful beautiful picture” is typical.
It’s the words of consolation, encouragement, and compassion, though, that gave me a little jolt. All that power! It pounds, it pulses, it fairly runs off the page. (Wow! Sounds pretty erotic—unintentional on my part, but it works. Power is sexy. Sex is powerful. “Laid Bare at 37 Weeks” is living proof.)
- I’m so sorry to hear that V is having such a toughie of it, though. What a rotten nasty infection. Poor thing, hugs
- Hope Violet gets better soon – especially before your boy arrives!
- Get well soon vibes for V.
- So sorry to hear that V is so poorly. I hope she’s soon feeling better.
Do you suppose all these commenters know “Laid Bare” personally? Or are they like me, passers-by drawn in by a remarkable image and caught up in the drama of Violet’s virus? (It’s apparently chickenpox, by the way. I infer* from some of the idioms that “Laid Bare,” whose name is, I think, Lyanne, is British. Perhaps they don’t vaccinate babies for chickenpox in Britain, or maybe Violet’s mum and dad decided against the vaccine, as many responsible parents do, for whatever reason. Could it be that Violet had the vaccine and it didn’t work?)
In any case, Lyanne’s and Violet’s lives have intersected with mine, and now with yours, in a small way because of technology, and I say, God bless technology! I am not an active member in an Internet community. You won’t find me in MySpace. I use songlists from imeem.com on my website, and several imeem users have asked to be my “friend.” I checked out the last person who asked, and she had something like fifteen thousand “friends.” I looked around a little, and lots of folks have even more. I don’t get it. Someone explain it to me, please.
Make friends, don’t be stupid
The people whose job it is to worry while the rest of us fly by the seat of our pants—the control freaks who want to put warning labels on shoelaces (“Do not wrap these objects around your neck, or anyone else’s neck. Do not snake these objects up your nose. Do not slice these objects into little pieces and put them in your salad with cucumbers and baby carrots.”)—these people issue nonstop warnings about Stranger Danger. It seems that, before you agree to meet, in person—say, at Target for coffee at 8 a.m. on a Saturday—an Internet Friend hitherto unseen by you, you ought to have that person investigated, preferably by the National Clandestine Service, and “patted down” at the door.
Me, I’m crazy about the Internet as a communication tool, and I know of several joyous long-term relationships that originated online, with the participants’ observing a modicum of common sense before getting together face to face. In any case, I like to think of all the “vibes for V” converging on Violet like a gentle wind, or a soft white light, hastening the healing her little body already knows how to do.
* Don’t use infer when you mean imply. Infer is roughly synonymous with deduce: “You just smashed me in the face with your enormous, warty fist, causing me to infer that you are angry with me.”