One of my favorite writing prompts that I offer in the workshops I teach is: “Write about what brings you joy.” This prompt is not only interesting for me to suggest, but over the years I’ve found that it’s one that workshop participants enjoy the most. So why do people like writing about joy? Perhaps it encourages the revisiting of happy times and good memories, maybe it inspires reflection, or perhaps it’s a merging of both the past and present in a way that can inspire.

While glancing around the room during my workshops, I often notice that participants tend to write nonstop and with a sense of purpose. It’s also interesting to observe the mix of expressions on their faces while writing. Some look quite serious, others sport slight smiles, while others tend to stare off into space as if they’ve entered a long-forgotten land. As a workshop facilitator, it’s very fulfilling to observe all these reactions. It’s particularly poignant since most often people resort to writing during difficult times as a way of healing.

In her recent blog in Psychology Today, titled “Where are your moments of joy?” Megan Dalla-Camina observed that some of her clients have difficulty even identifying when they felt good. Even more interesting is what landed in my in-box last week. It was from the Daily Om website, and reminded readers about a course being offered called “60 Meditations for Greater Happiness,” which promises to inspire individuals to be more present in their lives, which will hopefully result in a deeper sense of happiness.

My sense is that there seems to be a pattern here. Is discontent trumping happiness? What might be the reason for this? It’s unclear whether living in the moment or practicing mindfulness is a key to joy. What if you’re encountering difficult or transitional times and can’t find your way out of the dark paper bag? What can move you along on your journey? My answer is more often than not, “Just write.”

Also, when people tell me they’re unhappy or not feeling joy, I often suggest that they try to do just one thing that’s different. This could be helping others in need, arranging a social encounter, or engaging in some form of exercise. I always suggest supplementing any activity with writing, because through self-reflection and rambling, writing is one effective way to tap in to subconscious feelings. One of the many wonderful aspects of writing in a journal is that you can engage in stream-of-consciousness writing, which involves a great deal of rambling, and writing about whatever pops into your mind. This method might provide some headway into the insights of your soul. In stream-of-consciousness writing, there’s no need for a beginning, middle, or end to your ramblings. As I advise my writing students, “Let it rip!”

If you’re trying to examine the basis for any type of joy you’ve experienced in your lifetime, you might want to use some of these more specific prompts to get your creative juices flowing. It can also be a way to return to the most joyous moments in your life. Here are some ideas:

  • Make a list of the most joyful moments in your life.
  • Choose several of those moments and dig deeper into them by writing down specific details and feelings.
  • Write about a time when you felt most comfortable with who you were.
  • Write about the situations that make your heart dance, including feelings, people, and places.
  • Now write down what’s holding you back from feeling this deep sense of joy. Note what you should pay attention to in your life.
  • Write about your ideal life—including relationships, jobs, and living arrangements

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