Mark Twain once said, “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” When you do stumble on moments of bliss, taking a moment to write them down and reflect on them is important. It’s not just for keeping track of the good times, but regularly writing in a diary may actually be the secret to being as happy as a hog in mud.
Writing about your feelings can help the brain overcome emotional issues and help you feel happier, says research from University of California in Los Angeles. In that study, people who wrote about an emotional situation showed more activity in the emotion-regulating section of the brain which, in turn, appeared to trick the brain into feeling better in an unconscious way. The psychologists who discovered the phenomenon called it the "Bridget Jones effect", after the diary-keeping heroine of Bridget Jones Diary, which was more culturally relevant back in 2009 when it was named. Their research showed that when people wrote about their feelings, medical scans showed that their brain activity matched the activity seen in volunteers who were consciously trying to control their emotions. The mere act of journaling just made them calmer and happier.
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If you’re not much of a wordsmith, don’t worry. You can achieve that calming effect without any real writing skill. "Whether it's writing things down in a diary, writing bad poetry, or making up song lyrics that should never be played on the radio, it seems to help people emotionally,” Matthew Lieberman, a psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles who conducted the research, told The Guardian.
There have been numerous studies that have backed up the research before and after. Cambridge researchers found a similar effect, as did this study from journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, as well as This University of Iowa study revealed that journaling about stressful events can help participants cope with stress and move past it.
Another study at the University of Texas at Austin followed a group of students who spent 15 minutes a day for four consecutive days writing about either personally traumatic life events or trivial topics. For six months following the study, those students who wrote about traumatic events visited the campus health center less often, and used a pain reliever less frequently, than those who wrote about inconsequential matters, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Not only is keeping a diary good for your mental health and a path to happiness, but some research suggests keeping a diary may also offer physical benefits too, helping boost the immune system and may even help wounds heal faster. It’s also been linked to more self-confidence, better sleep, and a higher I.Q. All that for writing your thoughts down for a few minutes a day. It’s hard to imagine an easier way to improve your health and your happiness in just 15 minutes a day. And while they say you can’t put a price on good health, writing down thoughts and feelings is completely free, which is a price you just can’t beat.