Two mental health professionals we spoke to ahead of Black History Month, registered psychotherapist Meghan Watson and licensed professional clinical counselor Shani Tran, defined journaling as one tool to get in touch with, reflect on, and identify Black joy (you can check out more of their tips here).
Finding that joy within the individual self, Watson said - "demanding space for them to be happy" - is essential as it characterizes someone by more than just their trauma. While putting pen to paper will in no way erase racial trauma, both therapists expressed that it's a step to focus on their joy despite adversity. "The reason why we're differentiating joy and Black joy is because there's so much trauma out there," she noted. "We need to separate and clarify this is something that we feel, and it's restorative to us because of all of that trauma."
Watson and Tran each named two journal prompts to guide reflection. Check those out ahead.
"What Am I Grateful For in My Blackness?"
Tran told POPSUGAR, "It could be anything, but I know sometimes for me, I look in the mirror and I'm like, 'I am so thankful for these curves that I got from my mom.'" Another example, is being grateful for the sense of community and safety Tran feels with her family. "When I think about my own life and what I have either experienced, seen, or heard, I think of the community and how we're so strong and how we lift each other up, and I find joy in that."
The Black community itself, Tran said, brings her joy, too, knowing no matter what she has experienced, she can count on that togetherness. "It's this sense of, 'I see you, I see what you see. I might not have been through what you've been through, but I just want you to know I see you.'"
"What Do I Add to Black Culture?"
Tran said this question is a good one to reflect on because it "focuses on individuality and how we define culture." She said, "It allows the person to think about their contributions and how they choose to add to the culture." Take a moment, and jot down what comes to you.
"When Was a Blissful Moment in My Childhood?"
Watson suggested writing about times in your past where you felt free. "I think as we grow into adults, we lose the imagination and the joyfulness that comes with unrestricted play. As we get older, we erase ourselves from that narrative because it feels childish," she said. She added that not everyone has those childhood memories, so recalling them is a privilege in its own right (if that's the case, thinking about a blissful memory you have in general can suffice). The key is to try to connect with a sensation of freedom and nostalgia. Joy, Watson said, is for everyone.
"Visualize the Most Relaxing Holiday. What Emotions Was I Feeling? What Activities Was I Doing?"
In that same vein, Watson suggested looking back on a holiday, which might be useful especially due to the isolation that COVID-19 has caused. "For many people in the pandemic, the days have felt like an endless journey of overwhelm," she said. "In my experience as a therapist, many people are feeling exhausted and stuck in a cycle of burnout emotionally and mentally. Taking a literal mental vacation can provide a small but powerful meditative experience and a brief moment of joy." She also suggested visualization if journaling isn't working for you. "Picture yourself resting," she advised. "Go to your happy place."