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Often, when I write about something that’s bothering me, I start by venting and end up laughing. As I write, I detach from the subject and see the people (including myself) as characters. Even when I’m not amused, I generally have greater insight into myself and the situation.

We tell ourselves stories about our lives, and in the writing we dig deeper for the truth. We are curious about people and events, we explore without a destination. We may recast our experience, see regrets in a new light, see what we thought were failures as necessary steps on our path.

Studies show what we writers always knew: writing can have a positive effect on our health and happiness. One of the first to consider the relationship between personal writing and health was James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. He asked students to write for 15 minutes a day about important or superficial issues, and found that afterward students who wrote about personal issues had fewer illnesses and visits to the student health center. According to Pennebaker, “Expressive writing is a life course correction.”

In a New York Times opinion piece, Tara Parker-Pope (“Writing Your Way to Happiness”) discussed how writing, then rewriting, your personal story could lead to behavioral changes that improved happiness.

Writing may not solve every problem, but it helps people cope, according to Timothy Wilson, University of Virginia psychology professor and lead author of the Duke study. “Writing forces people to construe whatever is troubling them and find new meaning in it.”

Jack Groppel, co-founder of Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute says, “When you get to that confrontation of truth with what matters to you, it creates the greatest opportunity for change."

Writing can help us arrive at our truth and create powerful stories.

Writing prompt

Write about a situation that is troubling you to help you sort it out.

Copyright © 2015 by Laura Deutsch

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