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  1. Journal writing is a voyage to the interior. ~Christina Baldwin~ What is Journaling? Many of us have started writing a diary or journal at some points in our lives. And many of us have also stopped writing in them not that much later. That is a shame. Many famous artists, writers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and thinkers keep or have kept journals. For many, it is a creative necessity and outlet. For others, it is a place for exploration, and yet for others, it is an art form in itself.  Journaling can be enriching and fulfilling on many levels. It can lead to insights, personal growth, and setting and be achieving goals. Journals record our thoughts, feelings, and reflections. In doing so, they create a through-line in our life, a place of refuge and reflection, that we can visit and revisit.  What are the benefits of journaling? What different forms can we use if we want to journal ourselves? And how do we go about starting and sustaining a journaling habit? Documenting little details of your everyday life becomes a celebration of who you are. ~Carolyn Hamilton~ What are the benefits of journaling? In different studies, journaling has been identified as a keystone habit: a habit that is defining and catalysing more habits in your life. As Charles Duhig writes in The Power of Habit, these keystones are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives."  The benefits of journaling are emotional, cognitive, creative and possibly even spiritual. Journaling helps us to: Know ourselves better, by clarifying our thoughts and feelings. Release thoughts and emotions, by recognising and tracking them. Increase focus; deepen our learning and problem solving, in ‘decluttering’ our minds. Greater stability, detach and let go of the past; similar as in meditation practices, by developing our awareness of our thoughts and letting go of our clinging to them. Resolve disagreements with others, by detaching ourselves from the conflict and reflecting on it. Especially when we keep a gratitude journal, there are some added benefits. People that keep a gratitude journal are happier, healthier, more balanced, generally more optimistic, less self-centered, and less susceptible to feelings of envy, more relaxed, better in decision-making, and more strengthened in their emotions and developed in their personality.  A good journal entry- like a good song, or sketch, or photograph- ought to break up the habitual and life away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world. ~Anthony Doerr~ Different forms of journaling Enso Drawing - There are various forms of journaling. We can choose a traditional way, with pen and paper, or write in an electronic journal, use various media, or add art practices to our journaling (like drawings or collages, or even specialised forms like enso drawing).  Ten minute routine - An easy way to start journaling is practising the Ten Minute routine. Before going to bed, ask yourself so-called “requests”: what are the things that you are trying to accomplish, and write these down. Then in the morning, write down your answers and thoughts on these questions. This way of journaling is especially efficient to review and sharpen your to-do-list and life vision, as they become forged in your subconscious mind.  Stream of consciousness - Another tried way to journal is journaling every day in a stream of consciousness. Write down any thought, memory, to-do-list, feeling, drawing, or whatever else pops up. Just let it flow as you write, without trying to censor or edit yourself.  Morning memories - A different method is writing Morning Memories. Schedule your journaling session each morning, before you start your day’s activities. Use the same journal every day, sit in the same spot, and when you’re done writing, take time to reflect on what you have written and accomplished in that session.  Gratitude journal - Probably the most researched journaling method is keeping a gratitude journal. For maximum benefit, take 15 minutes per day, three to four times a week, to journal what you are grateful for on that day. Be specific, choose depth of gratitude instead of breadth, try to get personal (being thankful to people is more efficient than to things), see good things as a gift, saver surprises and unexpected events, and revise if you repeat, by writing new or different things if you are expressing gratitude to the same person or situation.  Intensive journal - A comprehensive method of journaling is using the Intensive Journal process. This copyrighted process, which can be learned in specialised workshops, enables the person journaling to get to know themselves on profound levels. The Intensive Journal Workbook is a large notebook filled with paper and divided into four dimensions of human experience: Life/Time, Dialogue, Depth and Meaning. Each of these aspects is divided into several subsections, to work through in the path that the method prescribes. Some of these paragraphs are used to write about our memory of the events of our lives as well as dreams and images. Others are more geared towards stimulating insights and creative activity.  Successful journals break the deadlock of introspective obsession. ~Alexandra Johnson~ How to start and sustain a journaling habit There are as many ways to initiate and maintain your journaling, as there are different forms of journaling.  A straightforward way to start journaling is by starting every day with writing down tasks and goals that you have for that day. Only write a few items, to make it easy to start and make progress. It is useful to mix personal and professional things. By keeping each journal entry short in the beginning, it is easy to succeed. At the end of each day, look back at what you have accomplished, what you have learned, what you want to explore further, and what you want to pursue the next day. Once you have developed a basic journaling practice, you can dig deeper and further expand your practice. Some commonly held beliefs and ‘best practices’ include:  Start writing about where you are in your life at this moment, and build on that in subsequent journal entries. Start a dialogue with your inner child by writing in your non-dominant hand, and switching back to your dominant hand. For sustaining your gratitude practice, maintain a daily list of things you appreciate, including uplifting quotes. Start a journal of self-portraits; draw, write, or collage who you are today, and learn to appreciate and develop yourself. Keep a nature diary to connect with the natural world: record what you experience in looking at the sky experiences the weather or walks in nature. Maintain a log of successes, starting with big ones that you remember, and then add them as they occur. Keep a log or playlist of your favourite songs. Especially, write about the moods and memories they trigger. If there’s something you are struggling with or an event that’s disturbing you, write about it in the third person, to create distance and perspective. I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train. ~Oscar Wilde~ Travels to our interior As we have seen in the above, journaling is a powerful habit that enables us to get a more in-depth and clearer understanding of the thoughts, feelings, and issues we are working through. Whether we use journaling to accompany our meditation, forgiveness, or gratitude practices, or to work through emotional trauma or creative stumble blocks, a daily practice enables us to focus and develop further.  Personally, I seriously started journaling some years ago, as part of the Morning Papers practice of The Artist’s Way. I have written notebooks full of journal entries related to personal growth, gratitude, creative development, project ideas, personal insecurities, blocked traumas, to-do-lists, goals, dreams, and wishes, and much more. I have journaled for weeks or months at a time, and have also not journaled for weeks in between entries. Every time I do come back to the practice and sustain it on a regular basis, I feel I can go deeper, explore things more explicit, and in the process, experience a wonderful journey to my interior.  I wish you the same journey as you explore your journaling practice!     Photos by Cathryn Laver, Ben White, Haley Powers, Estée Janssens on Unsplash    Written by Arlo LaibowitzArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  2. Gratitude and happiness often go hand in hand, especially when gratefulness is seen as something essential in our daily lives and not just as a passing emotion. Time and time again, scientific findings have proven that far from being a monolithic concept, gratefulness is a complex emotion that has physical, social, and cognitive benefits. Sounds interesting? Below we discuss this in deatial.  5 science-backed reasons to pick up a gratitude practice 1. Stronger Relationships The social dimension of gratitude is one of the most important reasons to set up and/or persevere in a gratefulness practice. It can help us build stronger relationships because by practising it, we are acknowledging not only the existence of things to be grateful for in life but also and more importantly, we are acknowledging the source of those things. In the majority of cases, the origins can be traced back to other people, whether they are family members (such as your partner preparing your favourite meal) or strangers (the postman delivering your mail, farmers producing the foods that will be on your table, etc.).  When we think about how other people improve and bring pleasure to our lives, our appreciation for them increases naturally. Noticing the small things and how they came about can be a real eye-opener. It helps us feel more interconnected, part of the whole, and in unity with the world that surrounds the people in it and us. The result: we are less likely to feel lonely or isolated and more likely to live meaningful lives.  The link between conscious gratefulness and stronger or more fulfilling relationships is not just subjective:  Researchers at the University of Manchester have established that gratitude influences our perception of social support, encourages reciprocity, and helps create a more supportive environment. 2. Higher Cognitive Functioning Gratitude has also been shown to have the potential to turn us into better functioning individuals, and science leaves little room for doubt about this. For example, Dr Christina M. Karns carried out extensive research into the neurological aspects of gratitude. Her findings (which you can learn about here, especially in the second half of video) revealed that brain imaging scans show how practising gratitude activates two areas of the brain that are responsible for processing information for decision-making purposes.  This has been confirmed by studies at other universities, which showed that grateful individuals were more likely to be patient in receiving rewards and made better decisions in the long term, whereas individuals who were not feeling grateful when faced with a choice preferred immediate rewards even if those were not as beneficial. Researchers concluded that there is a connection between gratefulness and self-control. Combined, these two virtues can help us become more rational and focused when making decisions.  Even better, research at two US universities shows that feeling grateful releases dopamine, a molecule that keeps neurons functioning and that according to Science Daily, can increase motivation and energy levels. Gratitude practices like letter writing or journaling were also shown to help people achieve their goals more consistently, and this only makes sense. Consciously and intentionally set aside some time to reflect on the reasons we have to feel grateful sets a precedent for analytical thinking, which can then be extended to other aspects of our lives.  3. Happier And More Positive Emotions When being grateful becomes an integral part of who we are, savouring the little pleasures in life becomes an essential part of our day-to-day routine. And the more grateful we feel, the more enjoyment we can get out of life. This is more than just a hypothesis. A paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that gratitude is strongly related to other positive emotions like life satisfaction, a sense of agency or control, and hope. At the same time, the study found an unlikely correlation between the feeling of gratefulness and negative emotions, such as depression, envy, and anxiety.  From a science point of view, our brains have a built-in negativity bias that makes us more likely to remember bad experiences than good ones. This happens because negative events trigger an adrenaline rush that engraves negative feelings and memories in the brain, but the good news is that a gratitude practice can help re-wire our brains to overcome this bias. Research findings show that gratitude makes us more resilient and gives us reasons to be happy even in difficult times, establishing a link between gratefulness and the ability to cope better with problems and stress. Other studies found that people suffering from depressive symptoms reported a 35% reduction in their symptoms after starting a thoughtful gratitude practice.  It is interesting to note that gratefulness seems to have a cumulative effect, as participants reported that happiness levels kept increasing over time. 4. Self-Improvement When all the benefits discussed so far are taken into consideration, it is evident that following a gratitude practice is an excellent way of boosting our opportunities for self-growth and personal development. In fact, bringing gratefulness into our lives can transform our personalities for the better. Scientific studies conducted in 2010 suggested that this emotion serves as an intermediary between positive personality traits and well-being, especially when it comes to areas like self-acceptance, purpose in life, openness to others, and autonomy. The beauty of this is that there is no way of predicting where a gratitude practice will take you, as adopting gratefulness is like going on a journey of personal discovery.  5. Better Overall Health Grateful living has benefits that we can experience at a physical level too. Dr Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, is a well-known expert in the science of gratefulness who affirms that gratitude can be beneficial to our bodies and improve our overall well-being. The research carried out by Dr Emmons, and his team highlighted the mind-body connection and showed that grateful individuals tend to be more aware of how their lifestyle choices affect their health. For example, being thankful for how good exercise make us feel is likely to keep us motivated to work out frequently, and in turn, regular activity is linked to a stronger immune system, lower cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure.  On that note, practising gratefulness appears to be good for our hearts too, and quite literally so. Scientists at the University of California – San Diego examined people who were at high risk of experiencing heart disease and who also kept a gratefulness journal and found that their symptoms worsened at a slower rate than participants who didn't follow the same practice. And in case that wasn't good enough, feelings of gratefulness cause higher activity in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates sleep patterns, metabolism, and stress levels.  As you can see, the benefits of incorporate gratefulness practices into your daily life are enormous. Why not give it a try and experience first hand the transformative power of gratitude?     modelphoto: colourbox.com  Written by Dee MarquesA social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in Nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.