Why I Keep a Journal

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My daily ritual of connecting heart and hand to paper and pen has brought peace, healing and spiritual wellbeing.

By ALICE ALECH

 

Among my most precious possessions is an old wooden trunk. It’s not a priceless family heirloom. Nor is it a cache for stashing valuable jewels. You might even describe it as an ordinary, drab looking piece of furniture. But, it’s the contents that matter.  

The trunk is where I store my personal collection of diaries: twenty tired looking journals that have accompanied me through the years.  

These books contain daily records of my secret life, my deepest thoughts expressed without fear or ridicule. 

At first, the ragged notebooks contained nothing but a record of my daily activities, summaries that helped me keep track of my life. But later, these ramblings developed into meaningful, therapeutic learning experiences. Through the uncensored telling of these personal stories, I have learned the value of self-reflection, the importance of getting things that matter down on paper. 

The art of journal writing has, over time, not only allowed me to process distressing situations; it has led me to a healthier, spiritual way of looking at things, a daily conversation with myself that has inspired me to work through my problems and improved my spiritual wellbeing.

You must now drop all expectations from this relationship. Accept that life is a process of letting go of what no longer serves. You enjoyed the friendship while it lasted but accept that she no longer wants to be a part of you. Let her go with love and respect the decisions that you have now both made.

This is the conclusion of a diary entry that sums up how I dealt with the emotional pain of losing what I thought was going to be a beautiful friendship.

Despite my repeated emails and phone calls, my friend kept her distance. At first, it seemed she was too busy. But then it became more and more apparent that our friendship was at an end. There were no explanations, no discussions, just a nonnegotiable rejection. My writing buddy, my only English-speaking friend in the French village where we lived, wanted me out of her life.

The hurt, the pain, the sadness was immense. It was affecting my mood and causing me distress.  

For days, I turned to my diary, pouring my heart out, expressing all the hurt. Doing so allowed me to accept what had happened and move on without malice. But here’s what’s important: every time I reread my daily entry, I felt better. In other words, I was healing.

Looking back now some five years later, I am so grateful I found this outlet. Writing out the episode as it happened, straight from the heart, helped me appreciate the therapeutic value of finding closure.

Your short fuse will get you into trouble, a colleague once told me. She was right.

Admittedly, it has taken me some time, but nowadays I document in my journal whatever has made me irritable during the day. I acknowledge my feelings.   I try to manage stressful situations by analyzing my actions and how I could have reacted differently. Writing it all out allows me to face my demons and release all feelings of anger and tension.

John Steinbeck knew the importance of writing discipline.  Wanting to keep a daily record of his progress as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath, he kept a diary. In it, he described his frustration, his bouts of depression, his fears and anxieties about his writing abilities. This warm-up exercise every morning before getting down to the task of writing his novel paid off. With this disciplined schedule, the celebrated author wrote the entire 200,000-word manuscript between May 31 and October 26, 1938, while keeping the diary that helped him achieve it. As documented in Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s diary is a testament both to his inspiration and determination.  

Recognizing my own achievements in my diary – giving myself a pat on the back for the things I did right each day – makes me sleep better. I also try to find at least three things I should be grateful for, listing them at the end of my daily entry. Expressing gratitude stimulates and motivates my subconscious mind, empowering me to press on even further with the challenges I face.  

According to scientists, expressing gratitude is beneficial for our minds and bodies. “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” writes Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, who is an expert in the field. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.” 

As for mental health, Emmons adds: “Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.” (Editor’s note: For more on the science of gratitude, see “Gratitude is Good Medicine” on this page.)

        

I’m still learning. My journal isn’t structured. Some days, my entries are brief. Other days, they’re full of ramblings: what I did that day, things I discovered, people I met, what inspired me, and so on.

Although it has its advantages, journalling on the computer doesn’t work for me. It’s relatively easy to record my day-to-day routine on paper, but I find it hard to type out my feelings and emotions. I become so self-conscious about my style and the technicalities of grammar and punctuation – and so tempted to edit and rewrite – that it distracts me from the true purpose of transcribing my inner life. 

For me, writing by hand is much more spontaneous. At the end of the day, there’s nothing more soothing than connecting heart and hand with paper and pen.

 

Writer Alice Alech lives in Provence, South of France  where she writes on  food, olive oïl and wine. She is co-author of the non fiction book 7 Wonders of Olive Oil. Find her at  alicealech.com

 

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