How Journaling Helps You Stay Happy, Motivated and True to Yourself (plus a few tips)

Just a few of my many journals

I love journaling. Keeping a journal is an integral part of who I am and has shaped the person I’ve become. I’ve been recording my thoughts in notebooks since I was 15 years old and I still have every volume. They’re packed with cringe-worthy stuff for sure but, unlike most forms of writing, the output isn’t the point. It’s the process of actively expressing yourself on the page where all the juicy nutrients live. Here’s how I’ve benefitted from journaling over the last 40+ years and a few guidelines I follow to keep the process engaging and uplifting. Keep reading, because along the way I share a few pages from old journals that no one on earth has ever seen before.

A Journal Allows You to:

Vent. You’re discouraged or hopeless, you feel stupid and ashamed. You’re lost, you’re afraid, you’ve been betrayed. A journal is a safe space to express all the dark emotions, feel all the pain, and be unapologetically messed up for a while. It’s not that the problem miraculously goes away, but I find when I pour out my ugly feelings on the page, they lose their hold on me. Then I can switch gears and move forward more positively.

Solve Problems. I figure out so much shit in my journal. Life is confusing, it’s hard to know what to do! My journal is the perfect place to analyze a situation according to my perspective and values, assess my options and decide what steps I should take.

Be Creative. Some people knit or paint. For me, my journal is my hobby. I use it to doodle, draw, chart, meditate, explore characters, record life events, complain, list desires, brag about my children, track calories, write poems, plan vacations and record dreams. I’m goofy and messy and illogical. I misspell words and use terrible grammar. Who cares? No one will ever see it but me. It’s freeing and fun!

Set Goals. A journal is a great place to clarify what’s important to you and make a plan for making it happen. Whether it’s gearing up for a big new project or simply planning my day, I find writing in my journal helps me get organized and stay motivated. Here’s a page I wrote in 2015 when Liam and I were in Rome and I realized that that walking and reading are the true joys of life.

Reflections from a trip to Rome in 2015

Get Spiritual. One of the things I cherish about my journal is that it provides a private place to express gratitude, pray and explore ideas about my purpose and the meaning of life.

Accept Yourself. Journaling is therapeutic. After all this time I’ve pretty much got myself figured out. I know what I’m good at, what I’m bad at, when I’m selling myself short and what I’m avoiding. My notebooks reflect my journey through high school, college, jobs, dating, marriage, child rearing, reinvention, menopause, aging and the empty nest. The best and the worst of myself is all there in writing—there’s no hiding from who I am. Journaling has helped me honor and respect myself, flaws and all.

Guidelines for Happy Journaling

How you journal is up to to, but here are a few practices I follow:

Find a notebook and pen you LOVE. Writing is a physical act and very tactile. You deserve the paper and instrument that makes you feel inspired. I can’t write with a scratchy pen or in a tiny notebook. I need room! My picks right now are an oversize Minimalism Art XL Journal and Sharpie writing pens. But you might want a smaller journal to toss in your backpack and colorful markers.

Write alone. This may seem obvious, but you need privacy to express your true thoughts. I write in my bed while having coffee in the morning but even your car or a public place like a park or cafe can work as long as you are solo and won’t be interrupted.

Write whatever you want, whenever you want, for as long as you want. You don’t owe your journal anything, it’s completely at your service. It’s impossible to be bad at journaling, so there’s no obligation or guilt. You can write a sentence every day or three pages once a month. I skipped whole years back when my kids were babies. Write three things you’re grateful for. Complain about your boss. Ask yourself questions. Make a list of your favorite songs. Imagine yourself a year from now. Write down your strongest memory from when you were 11 years old. Whatever you write, It’s all good, and I promise you’ll learn something about yourself.

Write to a better YOU. This one may sound weird, but I write to a higher version of myself—a wiser, more enlightened Marjie who wants the very best for me. I feel total acceptance and ease expressing myself within this relationship. I’ll sometimes open an entry with “You’ll never guess what happened!” which is kind of hilarious, because who’s doing the guessing here? But the informal, conversational nature of my journal feels right to me.

Seek inspiration. Sometimes I need an uplifting idea or thought provoking question to go deeper in my writing. For this, I turn to motivational quotes, affirmation card decks, and contemplative readings. You can also use journal prompts to take you in new directions.

Don’t show your journal to anyone. It may be tempting, especially if you’re getting a lot out of the process, but I recommend keep your journal private. You can talk with friends or your mate about what you’re writing about, but the actual writing is so precious and delicate it can be hard for others to appreciate.

That said, I’m boldly sharing a few excerpts from my journals from over the years:

One last note. I’ve started reading Matthew McConaughey’s book, Greenlights, which I picked up during our Treat Yourself Challenge. I was delighted to discover it isn’t a Hollywood tell-all. It’s a deeply reflective memoir based on 35 years of his journals!

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