Journaling Can Boost Happiness in Five Minutes or Less

Research suggests journaling has immense benefits. Here's how to do it fast.

Posted Apr 01, 2019

Research suggests that journaling can be helpful for reducing depression, anxiety, and stress. Journaling can also help you cope with emotions, create more focus, develop insights, reflect on behavior or feelings, and record precious elements of your life story. It's often said that journaling helps you act as your own counselor. Another benefit of journaling is that it can boost your happiness by helping you focus on the creativity, beauty, connection, fun, and love in your life.

Here are a few ways to do that in five minutes or less:

1. Write good things for a happiness jar

Gratitude can make people happier, improve their relationships, counteract depression, and boost their health. One easy way to practice gratitude is by writing (alone or with your family) a single happy moment from each day and depositing it in a happiness jar, an exercise described here by author Elizabeth Gilbert:

"Every single day, at the end of the day, I grab a scrap of paper and I write down upon it the happiest moment of that day. And I put the date on it. And then I fold up the note and stick it in the jar. And that's the whole practice."

2. Swap your to-do list to a with-who list (write connection intentions)

In The Mindful Brain, author Daniel Siegel writes that intentions prime our neural system to receive, sense, focus, or behave in a certain manner. One survey found that people who made resolutions were 10 times more likely to attain them.

Each weekend, (instead of just writing a to-do list), write about a few specific ways you want to connect with a loved one (e.g. partner, friend, or child). Even if you do need to fetch the dry cleaning, buy groceries, and get a car wash, you'll feel good at the end of the weekend if you enjoyed time with the important people in your life, too. 

3. Primed for joy

Each morning, before you jump out of bed, ask yourself,

"Where will my joy come from today?"

Jot a few ideas in a bedside notebook. They could be as simple as shooting hoops with your daughter, listening to a podcast on the way to work, making pancakes for your family, going for a walk, watching your child's gymnastics practice, going to a yoga class, doing a job you love, or eating your favorite sandwich.

4. Body map with compassion

Research suggests that feelings trigger sensations in the body such as butterflies in your stomach when you're nervous, red cheeks when you feel ashamed, or a tingling sensation all over when you're happy. Tuning in to your body helps you notice deeper emotions under the surface of your consciousness.

  • Draw an outline of a body on a piece of paper.
  • Notice any parts of your body that feel good or not good. Use markers, crayons, or colored pencils to label specific feelings on your paper.
  • Pay attention to any part of your body that is having a hard time and needs extra attention or compassion from you. Give it that compassion.
  • Notice any part of your body that seems happy, strong, relaxed, peaceful, or like it's done a great job lately. Draw your attention toward it or pat it gently with thanks.

5. At your best

Harvard researchers Di Stefano and colleagues (2014) found that people learn best when they have time to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. 

Write a single sentence about a time during the week when you were at your best (when someone could have taken a snapshot of you and would have seen you shine). Maybe it was solving a tough problem at work, patiently dealing with your kid's tough behavior, or kindly letting someone in on a tough highway merge.

You don't need a lot of time to reap the benefits of journaling. Just a few focused minutes can help you see things in a new way, attend to your deeper feelings, connect with loved ones, and savor your life.