I started keeping journals not long after I started reading the Amelia series of books by Marissa Moss. (If you love 1990s style websites, do yourself a favor and definitely click that link!) I can basically judge a person's character depending on if they read the Amelia book popularized by American Girl Magazine in the late 90s and early 00s. If you haven't read them, I take pity on you, but you need to get on Amazon and start ordering. Trust me on that one.
I have storage containers full of journals. Journals upon journals upon journals. At least 100 of them. At least. I was not very good at keeping things in order and I flitted between notebooks and diaries based on which one was prettiest or newest. Some are half empty. As I got older, they became more ornate; in high school, I all about filling my notebooks with intricate pencil drawings, printed photos from the internet, and collages. In college, I was a straight writer: no frills, no fuss. By my senior year, I was drawing intricate dates, writing long entries, including random lists (ala Colonel Gentleman from the Venture Bros, embarrassingly enough), pictures, ticket stubs, and more. Part-scrapbook, part journal, I hit the journal sweet spot.
I've continued my journal habit for about 16 years, if I guess that I started legitimately writing journals at 10 or 11. That's pretty impressive. I'm not an "everyday" kind of journal writer. I often forget or write about things that happened weeks ago. In general, my journal entries have always been more about my feelings than about what I strictly did that day or recounting conversations. I collect things: lists of books, sticky notes, general lists, disorder, whatever. I like my journals to feel as messy and disorganized as my life.
As much as I love journaling, I've always resented those "journal your way to happiness!!" blog posts. Journaling can definitely help get rid of negative or harmful emotions, but it's not a cure all. That's for sure. If journaling really allowed you to realize your greatest dreams with simply writing about it, I would be a world famous author who was 6'1" and looked like Kendall Jenner by now.
There are lots of valid reasons to keep a journal. Here are five:
1. People who write down things they are thankful for are happier.
Ok, this is a proven fact: if you write down a few things that were good about your day, or that you are thankful for from your day, you'll become a happier person. Basically, researchers did a study where they split a group in half; one half wrote down five positive things from their day and the other half wrote down five negative things from their day. It was a journal experiment and the results were that the group who wrote down positive things were happier people at the end of the study. Not too shabby, huh? If you're looking to find little ways to improve your life, writing down a list of things you are thankful for or positive events from your day (even on a rotten, horrible, no-good day) can be a good first step.
2. It's fun to look back on your past self and laugh (or cry).
Some of my best, funniest writing happened when I was 16. Why? Because my journals from my sophomore and junior years of high school are hilariously melodramatic. They're so boring, but looking back makes me appreciate how I somehow managed to be intelligent and really stupid at the same time. I'm sure this will continue to be a theme as I get older. Someday, when I'm 50, I'll look back my blog posts and journals and think, "What is wrong with you?"
3. It's relaxing.
I don't buy into the "journaling will make you so happy" mumbo-jumbo, but man... decorating a journal page and writing even just a paragraph can be a hugely relaxing activity after a long day of work. Sometimes, I find myself feeling on edge and cranky, and I slowly realize that what I really, really need is 45 minutes to myself to doodle, decorate, and journal.
4. It can improve your memory.
Everyday, I write a few of the same lists: things I need to do; things I've done; and things I've learned. As I write those daily lists, I find that I am better able to remember everything I have to do and everything I've already done. And I retain information better. Research has shown that list-makers (those list obsessed amongst us) have better memories, probably because physically writing information down (not typing it!) aids in memory retention.
5. You create a record for your family and children.
Ok, it doesn't matter if you have kids right now or not. But by keeping journals, you keep somewhat of a record of your life for your children, grandchildren, and distant relatives. How cool is that? Have you ever gotten a chance to read a great-great-grandfather's journals or ledgers before? Isn't it fun? I hope to leave something more than a Facebook page behind for future generations, which is part of why I keep journals.