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How Journal Writing Can Make You Happy

Journal writing is something that has been close to my heart for most of my life. I was already writing stories at the age of eight. Poems, vivid descriptions of my adventures and imagining my dreams filled my diaries in my teens. In a way, my journal has always been a good friend to me. It always listens, tries not to judge and helps my introvert self to process things.

Now, in adulthood, I use it to better hear what my intuition is trying to tell me as well as visualise the path to my dreams whilst also savouring the journey towards them. It’s magical. On top of all that, as a writer, journal writing also helps me to work on my craft. Basically, I love it from all sides!

That’s why I was super excited when my friend Megan decided to specialise in writing for wellbeing. I met her in 2012 when we did the Masters of Science in Applied Positive Psychology in London together. After the Masters, I carried on working on my Happyologist business whilst she dove deeper and did a PhD on her topic. She’s such an inspiration!

So, when her new book, Write Yourself Happycame out, I knew I had to interview her about it. I hope you enjoy her insightful answers as much as I do!

journal writing

Photo by Evie Shaffer on Unsplash

1. Summarise who you are in 1-2 sentences.

I am an author, happy academic, researcher of writing and wellbeing, and (very passionate) advocate for writing as a way to support mental health and happiness.

2. How did you get to where you are?

My first love was creative writing, so this is what I studied for my undergraduate degree, but the importance of mental health and wellbeing have always been a personal interest of mine. Both my mother and sister have experienced bipolar episodes, and so I’ve seen firsthand that happiness isn’t always easy to achieve – it takes care and attention. Gradually I came to see that writing was an important, instinctive way that I had always supported my mental health, and so I went on to research this at MSc and PhD level – leading to my book, Write Yourself Happy.

3. Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?

Yes! And I feel very fortunate about having had this ‘North star’ to guide my life and my choices. There were definitely periods where I doubted if it could work as a profession (there still are, in fact!) but I’ve never not written. It’s just a huge part of who I am, and how I understand myself in the world.

4. What do you do when you are creatively stuck?

I go for a walk. The ideas are always there, sometimes they just need breathing room! Getting away from the page or computer screen and getting into green spaces never fails to enliven me creatively.

5. What does a typical day look like for you?

This all depends on what I am working on, but I try to get whatever is most pressing work-wise done in the early morning. After lunch, my brain is far less cooperative. I work from home a great deal and, to be honest, I still find I am tweaking this all the time to see what works best. My top priorities are always self-compassion and finding the joy in what I am doing. I’ve noticed that joy always fans the flames of productivity! Equally, I try to set boundaries that mean I truly ‘switch off’ in the evenings. As a creative person who loves their work, it is easy to slip into the habit of *always* being in work mode, and I do my best to avoid this. So my evenings are usually spent relaxing with friends, a good book, or good TV, and I particularly love cooking as a way to unwind.

6. Now let’s talk about your new book, Write Yourself Happy. How did you get the idea for it?

Write Yourself Happy is based on a research project I conducted with Dr Kate Hefferon at the University of East London as part of my MSc degree. I had always used a journal, and at that time gratitude journalling was a huge buzz topic, but I just found myself wondering… what are some other ways that we could use a journal more positively? And the study was born! I invited a group of participants to get involved and try journalling with a range of positive emotion prompts, and their experiences were so rich and enlightening that I knew it could make a fantastic resource as a book.

7. Who would you recommend read the book?

Anyone who would like a new and enjoyable way to support their happiness and wellbeing – whether or not they’ve written much before. There is plenty in the book for newbies and experienced journalers alike! It is a really practical guide, with lots of encouragement to make a mess and be creative, all whilst prioritising our most treasured emotions – joy, hope, awe, pride, and many others.

8. What would you say to someone who is apprehensive about journalling? What about if they’re apprehensive about working on their happiness in general?

I would say that many people have negative associations around writing that are important to acknowledge. This might be because of how writing was taught to them in school, or perhaps criticism they’ve received over the years. I hope the book can change people’s minds around this through offering an opportunity to ‘take back’ writing as something deeply personal, comforting and fulfilling. You never have to share your journal writing, it’s literally a conversation between you and you – and that, as a regular practice, can be so empowering.

Equally, happiness can seem like this gargantuan thing that we are all chasing, meaning there are sometimes negative associations – perhaps we feel it’s not a very practical aim or even a valuable one. Again, the book breaks down this idea. Happiness is not one thing, it is many. It is made up of diverse micro-experiences. Unravelling our individual positive emotions through simple, enjoyable writing prompts can help to illuminate these intricacies.

9. What are your top three tips from the book?

– Write when things go right. We often turn to journals in tough times, which is really helpful, but can mean we only ever focus on the challenging stuff and forget to recognise and enhance what is going well – the book flips this idea on its head. Celebrate the good stuff, too, in order to create more of it.

– Let yourself make a mess. A beautiful journal is a lovely thing, but first and foremost this is a space for you to be yourself – not necessarily create a work of art or stringently manage your time. Being yourself can be a messy business because being human is a messy business! So embrace this. Scribble in your journal. Doodle. Make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Interrupt yourself. Be honest about the tough stuff, whilst also celebrating what is good. Begin again, over and over.

– Feel free to be creative. You don’t have to be a Writer-capital-W to write creatively. Poetic language, metaphor, and story can have a place in a personal journal – and actually provide a wonderful way of re-framing our experiences in order to better understand them. Try writing yourself as a character, in the third person. What motivates that character? Or, write poetically about an emotion like joy. If joy had a taste, what would it taste like? A sound? A scent? Using our imagination in this way is a useful practice because it helps us to begin imagining new possibilities for ourselves, and our lives. Creative thinking is not only an enjoyable pastime, it is a highly practical skill.

10. Where can people find you?

I’d love for people to visit me at meganchayes.com. They can also discover more about positive journalling at positivejournal.org where I’ve shared some free printable prompt sheets for beginning this practice. I can also be found on Instagram, @megan.c.hayes. Do come along and say hello!

On that note I really hope you check Megan and her amazing work out, including of course her book!

I also want to say a huge thank you to her for being such an amazing inspiration to me, as well as being an incredibly supportive friend. Love you to bits hun!

With that, I wish you good luck in your adventures!

Sending you light & love,

x Susanna


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