Follow Your Joy Sparks

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Joy Sparks turn your ride through life into a road trip of passion and enthusiasm. Follow your joy sparks. They are everywhere, like guiding stars in the sky, lighting your way to a happy life.

r.k.

I wish I were more like Winnie the Pooh.  Whether he’s visiting with a friend or going on an adventure, he follows his joy. He flows through life. When he encounters a problem, he sees it with clear, innocent eyes. He carries no “baggage” with him. He approaches every situation with an open mind and an open heart. And yet he solves problems and gets more done than wise Owl or busy Rabbit.

One of Pooh’s gifts is that he does not resist what is. He is fully present in his “now.” He isn’t stuck in the past or worrying about the future. And he doesn’t need a particular result or outcome in order to be happy. He just follows his “joy sparks” and takes life one day at a time.

We can follow our “sparks” too. Joy sparks turn our ride through life into a road trip of passion and enthusiasm. When we notice our feelings and let them flow peacefully through us, we begin to see that joy sparks are everywhere, like guiding stars in the sky, lighting our way to a happy life.

Sometimes sparks show up as, “I want this so badly.” Sometimes they feel like a soft whisper in our ear. And other times they show up as an exciting idea that we can’t get out of our head. One thing sparks have in common is that they come from love. This is one of the reasons we can trust our joy sparks. They are always focused on betterment, never the hurting or destruction of another. They never come from malice.

What I know for sure… is that when you follow your joy, magic happens. Living a life according to what you “must” do or “should” do is not a recipe for happiness. I know, I’ve tried it that way and it doesn’t work out. But when we open our hearts and start looking for our “joy sparks,” we find ourselves guided to a path that is uniquely and beautifully our own.

Your Top Ten Desires

Jospeh Campbell once wrote, “If you follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Today, I want you to write down your top ten desires as if they have already happened. Describe each in detail. This activity is a great way to tap into your “joy sparks.”

I keep my top ten list in my wallet and whenever I think about it, I take it out and visualize each wish on it as if it has already come true. Several years ago I was diagnosed with macular degeneration, so on my “top ten desires” list I wrote:

“Thank you for my healthy eyes. The macular degeneration is gone and my eyes are now healthy. It feels so good not to have to worry about my eyesight. Thank you for my healthy eyes and healthy vision.”  

About six months later, I went to an eye specialist and had my eyes thoroughly examined. The doctor found no sign of macular degeneration.

You can also include your children’s desires on your list. Perhaps you might write something like, “Thank you so much for my children’s happy lives. They are each thriving in their own way and are happy and healthy.”

What will you put on your list? What are your top ten desires?

Visualize the entries on your list again and again, as if they have already come true. Focus on how good you feel. Take some time with this exercise and do some deep thinking about what you really want. For many people, this is hard work. We live in a society that tells us what we must do and what we should do. But when is the last time anyone asked you what you want to do?

Be sure to write your desires down in past tense. If you write them in future tense, you can put yourself under pressure to achieve them. But if you write them in past tense, as if they have already happened…you relax, you start to believe, you smile, and you let that wish come to you.

With gratitude in your heart, think about what you really want and describe it as though it has already happened. Begin each desire with the words, “Thank you for_______.”

The Peaceful Water You’ve Been Seeking

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“Noticing and releasing our feelings as they come up, softens the talking in our mind, giving us space and allowing us to better understand our self, others, and the world around us.”

r.k. & m.m.g.

Have you ever noticed that there is a voice in your head that talks pretty much ALL of the time? If you have ever tried to meditate, you’ll know how challenging it can be to go 15 minutes in total silence. This voice in our head comments on everything.

It’s like having a radio on in the background. We get so used to it, we forget it’s on until we tune in to it. A popular phrase these days is, “I don’t have the bandwidth to take that on right now.” There’s this feeling that our lives are so full that we can’t take on anything more. But when our inner talking is reduced we find ourselves with lots of extra bandwidth and we can do what we want to do, without feeling overwhelmed.

If you’ve ever experienced a quiet mind, you know what a joy and relief that is. Suddenly you see and hear so much more! And you can connect more deeply with others and really take in what they are saying, because there is nothing in the background to distract you.

What we know about joy and our “inner radio”…
Our mind’s natural state is one of quiet. When our mind is quiet we experience less stress and anxiety because there is less “noise” demanding our attention and energy. We become more “present” in each moment and this leads to more joy, more clarity, and more “flow”. In those beautiful moments when our “inner radio” is quiet, our consciousness, our awareness, and our capacities are expanded.


“What Was I Just Feeling?”

“Noticing” is a powerful form of mindfulness because it puts a little distance between you and your feelings. You become aware of what you are feeling, but you are not attached to those feelings. This noticing is important because oftentimes our internal radio is triggered by our feelings.

We have found that a busy mind is one of the things that can diminish our happiness. When our minds are constantly filled with thoughts, it may not allow us space to feel joy. A technique that Rebecca has been experimenting with is releasing feelings as they come up. She has found that by doing this, the “inner radio” becomes quieter and it opens the mind for clearer thinking, planning, and dreaming.

When you notice that your “inner radio” is on, ask yourself, “What was I just feeling?” Notice the feeling that came before the thought. It’s a very fast process and looks something like this:

  1. You notice that your mind is talking. Perhaps it is saying something like, “I wonder what I should eat for dinner.” (You might think that this is an idle thought, but possibly it is triggered by a feeling of unease.)
  2. You pause and ask yourself, “What was I just feeling? Was I feeling hungry, bored, annoyed, worried? Aha! I was feeling worried. I was worrying about my weight and trying to decide what I should or should not eat.”
  3. Relax and visualize the worried feeling moving through you and out of you.

Keep noticing and releasing your feelings. A quiet mind is a gift and will bring you much joy. Perhaps before, you found yourself in the “middle” of your thoughts but now you are looking at them from a little “distance.” You see that thoughts come and go, and you make the life-changing discovery that you are not your thoughts. You are much more. And this is the peaceful water you have been seeking.


Want more Joy?

Read: What we know for sure about Bugs, Butterflies, and Joy.
https://journaling.com/articles/what-we-know-for-sure-about-bugs-butterflies-and-joy/

Read: What a difference simple Joys make.
https://journaling.com/articles/what-a-difference-simple-joys-make/

Use: Joy Journal – A Guided Journaling Experience
https://www.amazon.com/Joy-Journal-Make-Daily-Experience-ebook/dp/B00A4SGIN6/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Joy+journal+rebecca&qid=1603320595&sr=8-2


We would love to hear about your experience with this practice and invite you to reply to this email. We have found it to be an ongoing process, but well worth the effort.

Sending you much joy,

– Rebecca & Marilyn

What We Know for Sure About Bugs, Butterflies and Joy

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“Noticing and releasing our feelings as they come up keeps the ‘windshield of our mind’ clear. This lets in more light and allows us to experience life, less through the lens of our personal ‘stuff’,and more through the lens of openness and wholeness.”

R.K. & M.M.G.

When we are born it’s as if we are given a car to take us through life and this car has a shiny clean windshield. Then one day we are going along and someone says something unkind to us. “Ping,” it’s as if a bug has attached itself to the glass. A little later down life’s road something beautiful happens and we cling to that good feeling. “Ping,” a butterfly has attached itself to the glass. Before we know it, our shiny clean windshield is covered with bugs and butterflies.  Now, when we encounter someone or something, our experience of it is changed because we are seeing it through the filter of our buggy windshield.

Avoiding the bad and clinging to the good alters how we experience our NOW. The painful events become magnified because they remind us of past painful events. And clinging too tightly to past joys can keep us from experiencing new joys.

Our mind’s natural state is one of quiet. When our mind is quiet we experience less stress and anxiety because there is less “noise” demanding our attention and energy. We become more “present” in each moment and this leads to more joy, more clarity, and more “flow”. In those beautiful moments when our “inner radio” is quiet, our consciousness, our awareness, and our capacities are expanded.


Notice, Name, Relax, Release

We are so excited to introduce you to a practice we call “Notice, Name, Relax, Release.” We,  Rebecca and Marilyn, have found it to be life-changing.

  • You Notice your feelings as they come up.
  • You Name what it is you are feeling. I’m feeling… anxious/tense/afraid/fatigued/happy/insecure/nervous/irritated/angry/annoyed/content/sad/proud.
  • You Relax.
  • You Release the feeling and let it move through you and out of you.

People experience “releasing” in different ways. Some picture themselves mentally “leaning back”, giving the feeling enough space to come up and move through them. Other people feel a warming in their torso or experience the releasing as a sigh.

Try to release not only your “bugs” but also your “butterflies.”  There is no need to cling to the good. There are many more butterflies coming your way. Picture a closed fist versus an open hand. When we allow good feelings and happy moments to move through us, we are open to the flow of life.

One of the reasons this practice is so powerful is because it brings you into your now. When a feeling comes up, you notice it and you let it move through you. This keeps your “windshield” clean and keeps you from collecting new “bugs” or “butterflies.” You are not avoiding your feelings or suppressing them. Instead, you are practicing awareness, which helps you to become more centered and whole.


What are you feeling right now?

  • Throughout the day today, ask yourself every once in awhile, “What am I feeling right now?” Select one word that fits that feeling. Then let that feeling move through you and out of you. The more you do this, the greater the benefits.
  • We invite you to share your experience with Notice, Name, Relax, Release, in the comment field below.

Want More Joy?

Read: What a Difference Simple Joys Make
https://journaling.com/articles/what-a-difference-simple-joys-make/

Use: Joy Journal – A Guided Journaling Experience
https://www.amazon.com/Joy-Journal-Make-Daily-Experience-ebook/dp/B00A4SGIN6/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Joy+journal+rebecca&qid=1603320595&sr=8-2

Listen to: Breathing in Full Sentences: Writing as a Spiritual Practice
https://journaling.com/articles/breathing-in-full-sentences-journal-writing-as-a-spiritual-practice-with-christina-baldwin/

What a Difference Simple Joys Make

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When we turn our attention to what we love, what we appreciate, and what we find beautiful, the conversation moves from what’s not working to what is working. And that is a wonderful place to be.

– R.K. & M.M.G

Simple Joys

Joy is incredibly powerful. Even simply noticing the beauty of a flower or a gentle breeze can elevate us and expand our awareness of what’s around us and what’s possible. When we are in joy, everything is a miracle and there is seldom a moment that does not delight us.
 
One of the fascinating things about joy is how varied it is. Sometimes it sounds as loud as a horn and other times it is as quiet as a whisper. Sometimes it’s so subtle you almost miss it, and other times it fills you with the majesty of God.
 
A few years ago, Rebecca was in a bookstore signing copies of her book, Joy Journal, and she overheard a woman talking. “It’s fine for her to talk about joy. Joy is probably easy for her.” Alas, if that were only the case. Is there anyone on this planet who has experienced only joy?

Where are you on the joy scale right now?

Some people feel like joy is something they don’t deserve and they have a hard time letting it in. For others, joy has disappeared suddenly because of a traumatic event. If you are “deep in the well” or having a hard time, joy is the ladder that gets you out of that well. It can be challenging, but look closely and find something every day that brings you joy. Those moments of recognition and appreciation are what get you through the hard times.
 
If you are already experiencing a lot of joy, we are so happy for you. Keep going. One thing about joy is that the more you turn your attention to it, the more you have. When you are in joy, you know instinctively that this is where you are meant to be. That this is your natural state of being.

Know this, for sure, about you and joy…
You deserve to be happy. Everyone does. Just the fact that you are alive means that joy is your birthright. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to be worthy of it. We know that life can be challenging. But find your way back to joy as quickly as you can. Don’t let unhappiness become your normal. Life is precious. We, Rebecca and Marilyn, have been through some big ups and downs and we’ve discovered that even in the hard times, there is joy. If you are out of sync with joy, today is the day you step up and reclaim your right to a happy life.

Joy is Your Natural State

We treat happiness as if it is something that happens to us – something that is out of our control. But if someone said to you, “Could you be happy for the next five minutes?” You would probably answer, “Yes.”

We’ve been conditioned to think that happiness is a reaction. Something good happens and we feel good. Something bad happens and we feel bad. But joy is who you really are and you can experience happiness and joy on a daily basis. Marianne Williamson once said that, “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”

Today, notice the simple joys in your life. Some joys we have in common and some are uniquely our own. One of Rebecca’s favorite joys is, “My morning cup of chai, in a mug so big you could take a bath in it. I love holding that warm cup in my hands and breathing in the spicy scent of cinnamon and nutmeg.” Marilyn’s favorite simple joy is, “Sitting out on the patio and looking at all the colorful flowers around me while my cat, Willa, sits purring on my lap.”

If you get a chance, ask a friend or relative what their simple joys are. If they’re not sure what you mean, here are some examples. “Simple joys are little things that make you smile or help you to relax. Like a warm chocolate chip cookie, a sweet memory, a favorite TV show, a lit candle, or shooting baskets in the driveway and the ball goes in with that perfect “swish” sound.”

When we turn our attention to what we love, what we appreciate, and what we find beautiful, the conversation moves from what’s not working to what is working. And that is a wonderful place to be.


Let’s celebrate the power of simple joys…

  • Think about your day. What are some of the things that bring you joy?
  • What is your favorite simple joy?
  • We would love to hear about your joys and invite you to share in the comment area below.

Want More Joy?

5 Ways Journaling Boosts Happiness and Well-Being:
https://journaling.com/articles/five-ways-journaling-boosts-happiness-well-being-with-nancy-scherlong/
 
3 Ways Journal Planners Cultivate Happiness:
https://journaling.com/articles/three-ways-journal-planners-cultivate-happiness-with-mo-seetubtim/

Make joy a daily experience with Journaling.com’s guided journal, “Joy Journal.”
https://amzn.to/3dMM87N

A Hug from the Universe: A Reflective Journaling Exercise, with Lori Ann Roth

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Suddenly, I felt a wave of peace and love surrounding me. It was as if I was receiving a giant hug from the entire universe. The feeling was of immense joy and love going into me, around me, and through me. I started to cry because the love was overwhelming.  “Thank you, thank you” was all that I could say as the tears streamed down my face. The gratitude I was experiencing was so large, the entire world, sky, and universe was involved.  I realized that I am not alone. Someone, something loves me; loves me so much. I had never experienced that kind of love, peace or joy before in my life. When it went away, I felt so much calm. I was very relaxed but energized and joyous. I felt lighter and part of the world.

Some say it is God; maybe a spiritual presence. Others say that it is my body accessing parts of the brain that produce these types of sensations. I just know that the emotion was beyond wonderful and I categorized it as a gift. I didn’t have that experience for another 7 years. I chocked it up as an anomaly. Then it happened again during similar circumstances. I wondered if I could re-create that emotion/feeling anytime I was feeling down and needed a giant hug from the universe. So, I started to find what was similar about both times.

That first instance happened when I was writing in my journal on my deck in Virginia; I was 48 years old. Journaling is a habit for me – ok, not a habit but a way of life. I journal almost every day. The second time it happened I was 54 and had moved to Florida. I was writing at night because I couldn’t sleep. Both times I was outside, it was quiet, and I was alone. So, I started to experiment with my journal.

I call this new journal the being journal.  Many of us, myself included, are do-ers. We get things done.  Most of us believe this is a great characteristic. I am an achiever! However, I realized that when I was doing, I was not be-ing. Each time I felt the “hug” I was not doing anything.  After much thought and analyzing, I wrote down the process and wish to share it with you. It may work, it may not. It has worked for me, not all of the time, but more often than not.  I can recreate this sensation.

Get Your Hug from the Universe

  1. Choose a place in nature where you will not be disturbed, and it is quiet. I always sit down.
  2. Write down all of your thoughts down.
  3. Write until you have nothing left, until there are no more thoughts.
  4. Put the journal down and take some deep breaths. Breathe in the air and the moment.
  5. Breathe normally and just be. Each time my eyes were open, and I observed the nature around me. 
  6. At this state, you will feel relaxed.
  7. Feel grateful (don’t think here) for all that you see, experience, and sense.
  8. Just be and take in everything.

That’s all there is to it! Then the sensation or the “hug” envelopes me. 

In my experience, this process works best when I don’t overthink it. I have friends who say this is a form of meditation or mindfulness. That is fine with me. Whatever you would like to call the process to create your “hug” is perfectly ok.  Using a journal helps me to get out of my head and into the place of love, gratitude, and joy.  Hopefully, this will work for you. I wish for you to experience this true joy. This hug from the universe. Good luck and let me know if you have any other journaling exercises or experiences that work for you to bring you joy. 

Lori

Clearing Clutter in a Pandemic: Gentle Guidance from Clutter Coach and Journal Therapist Carolyn Koehnline

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What a time we’re living in.

Some of us are on the front lines of this crisis. Some are scrambling to do work in a new way. Maybe you, like many, are finding yourself sequestered at home, with unexpected, unstructured time. If so, you may be thinking, “What a perfect time to clear clutter. Now I can do every unfinished thing on my to-do list.”

Before you put that pressure on yourself and dive into your most overwhelming cluttered areas, here are some thoughts about how to bring gentleness to the process, inviting your journal to be a supportive companion along the way.

Start by Clearing Internal Clutter

Don’t expect yourself to be constantly productive or consistently plucky and optimistic. In a single day, I notice that I can be hopeful, grief-stricken, grateful, angry, and courageous. I can also be both terrified and curious about where all this will take us. We are all recalibrating, taking in new information every day, catching up to changes, losses, restrictions, and unexpected blessings.

Self-judgement is a kind of clutter. It will only get in the way. I encourage you to practice compassion with whatever thoughts and feelings come and go. Reach for people (at a safe distance or within your germ bubble), pets, poems, nature, music, and anything else that calls out your best self and helps you be kinder to yourself. Or reach for your journal and invite it to be the kind listening ear or voice of reassurance that you need. Even taking a few minutes to describe your feelings can help clear some internal clutter and help you feel more able to focus and function.

Identify Doable Projects

These days, we tend to be especially aware that our lives are full of uncertainties. There are so many big events that we can’t control. And one way or another, we’re experiencing limits and losses, big and small. So, not every project is appropriate right now. Some may be too unwieldy and chaotic. Some may leave you too emotionally raw. I encourage you to start with projects that feel calming to work on, can be completed fairly quickly, and will give you some peace of mind to accomplish.

You might want to begin by opening to a fresh page of your journal and listing some possible projects. Even small acts of transformation can be uplifting and help you feel more comfortable in your home. Organize a sock drawer. Clear some emails. Create an emergency kit. Write a letter. Mend some clothes. Fold some laundry. Glue some things that are broken.

Consult Your Hat

If you’re not sure which project to start with, make a list of twelve things it would be helpful to accomplish. Number the list and throw corresponding numbers into a hat. Then draw one randomly. Whatever you pick, that’s the project you work on. When you’ve completed that project, you can declare yourself done for the day, or choose another item from the hat.

This strategy can keep you from overwhelming yourself or spinning your wheels. You are giving yourself permission to do one thing at a time instead of everything at once. What a relief! For fun, you can also throw in other kinds of items.
Read a chapter of my novel. Spend an hour with my watercolors.

Have Regular Dates with Your Journal

Once you’ve accomplished some smaller clutter-clearing projects you may feel you’re ready to take on bigger ones. I strongly suggest you break them down into smaller steps, take breaks, and pace yourself. And plan on regular dates with your journal along the way.

Clearing clutter is a powerful thing to do. Making clear choices about what to keep and what to release from your home, head, heart, and schedule can be a way of bringing order to chaos and saying needed goodbyes to open space for new beginnings. It can give you a feeling of forward movement and empowerment at a time when you might otherwise feel stuck or in limbo. It can also be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging.

Let your journal be your own private place to make your plans, find clarity when you start to get overwhelmed or confused, express your feelings, and celebrate your victories. Don’t forget to invite it into your process. I have no doubt it will be ready and willing to help you.

Carolyn Koehnline, LMHC, CJT offers coaching and online classes in transitions, clutter clearing, befriending time, and creating a more artful life. Visit www.GentleApproachCoaching.com for more information. You can access her online school, “A Gentle Approach to Clutter” here. And click here for her free monthly newsletter.

This article was adapted from Carolyn’s “Gentle Approach” newsletter, March 2020.

Nature Journaling: Infuse Your Writing with Words from the Wild

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Any opportunity to examine life through a new lens is a gift. The time we spend outdoors provides a different vantage point. The smells and sounds that flood the senses as we walk in nature shifts thinking and puts us into a more mindful state of being.  

What is Nature Journaling?

Nature journaling is simply the act of recording observations we make in the wild. These can be about the sky, bird songs, and trees we encounter, or about internal revelations that surface as we walk. Sketches, paintings, poems, and narrative text are all methods used to record these moments.

The Benefits of Nature Journaling

  • Nature journaling sharpens our focus. When we stop to record observations, we look more closely at details. We see more. We notice patterns.
  • Time in nature helps declutter and quiet overactive thinking.
  • New ideas and creative inspiration grow roots in the wild.
  • Inspired learning takes hold as we learn to identify new birds, insects, flora and fauna.
  • As we cultivate deeper awareness of nature’s cycles and rhythms, we become better stewards of the environment.
  • Time outdoors is invigorating and infuses all forms of self-expression with vibrant energy.
  • Multiple studies show a correlation between time in nature and mental health.

How to Get Started

Just like most journaling techniques, there is no right or wrong way to keep a nature journal. Some journals are filled with words, while others burst with bits of art and treasures collected on walks.

You may choose to journal while you are out on your walk. If so, you’ll only need a lightweight journal, pen, and art supplies. Or perhaps you’d prefer to carry home a few souvenirs from your walk—an acorn or a bird’s feather as reminders of moments to write about when you return home.

Nature Writing Prompts

Its liberating to be out in nature without an agenda, task list, or actual plan. And yet it can also be grounding to enter a new environment with one’s eyes turned to a goal or purpose. If the latter point resonates, take some of these ideas on your next walk in the wild.

  • Experiment with leaf rubbings
  • Revisit a special spot each week for a year and note the changes the seasons bring. Make measurements. Note changes of color. Observe plants going to seed or just about to blossoms. Sketch or write about the processes at play.
  • Keep a catalog of birds, flowers, trees and insects you spot. If you see something you can’t identify, snap a photo or make a sketch. Bring home the picture and look it up.
  • Carry an animal tracks identification book and follow wild “footsteps” through snow and mud. See where they take you, and write about the places you wind up.
  • Create nature stamps with goodies collected on your walk. Decorate your journal with them.  
  • Bring a question on your walk or a problem you are wrestling with. Walking in nature provides new clarity. When you are able, write down what you discover.

Nature Journaling with Children

Nature journaling is a way to get outdoors with your child and connect them with the environment in meaningful ways.

This moment together can be relaxing and grounding. It will evolve naturally with little preparation on your part. There’s no need for much structure or planning. Rather it’s a time to move slowly with your child—or to race through a nature-made obstacle course if that’s their thing! It’s a moment to wake up to the amazingness of everything that surrounds us.

Help your child see what’s happening beneath their feet and high above their heads. Guide their eyes toward the complex ecosystems that surround them. Count how many shades of green and brown your child can see. Encourage the use of all five senses as they walk. What do they see, smell, touch, hear, and (if you know how to safely identify wild foods) taste?

When your child is ready to rest, find a warm sunny patch of grass. Drink some water, and then pull out those journals. You may be amazed by the ways your child fills the pages.

Unleashing the Power of Expressive Writing

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It’s an enormous honor to welcome Dr. James Pennebaker back to our podcast. Affectionately known as the “father of expressive writing,” Dr. Pennebaker is a pioneer in the field of research that examines the profound benefits of expressive writing.  

Dr. Pennbaker is a Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.He is a social psychologist and the author of hundreds of articles and many books including The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us and Opening Up by Writing It Down.

You can hear our conversation or read highlights of the interview below.


Unleashing the Power of Expressive Writing, with James Pennebaker


On the back of Dr. Pennebaker’s guided journal, Writing to Heal, he observes the power of expressive writing. “The simple act of expressing your thoughts and feelings about emotionally challenging  experiences on paper is proven to speed your recovery and improve your mental and physic health. Expressive writing will leave you with a stronger sense of value in the world and the ability to accept that life can be good even when it is sometimes bad.”

With an evident sense of humor, Dr. Pennebaker tells us about his first experience with expressive writing. Early on in his marriage, tension would sometimes rise. During a rough patch, Dr. Pennebaker retreated into his bedroom where he wrote down his feelings. The whole process took less than 15 minutes. Emerging from his room lighter, he had a fresh perspective he promptly shared with his wife. The act of writing down strong feelings provided much needed clarity and he was surprised by the power of the experience. Although this writing session marked a turning point, it would be several more years before Dr. Pennebaker formally began research on the benefits of expressive writing.

“The simple act of expressing your thoughts and feelings about emotionally challenging  experiences on paper is proven to speed your recovery and improve your mental and physic health. Expressive writing will leave you with a stronger sense of value in the world and the ability to accept that life can be good even when it is sometimes bad.”

The Benefits of Expressive Writing

Dr. Pennebaker’s research spans decades, and many other prominent researchers have followed in his footsteps to prove the benefits of expressive writing. Positive outcomes include:

  • Faster recovery from surgeries
  • Mood regulation
  •  Improved sleep
  • New insight that facilitates effective problem solving

How Expressive Writing Works

Dr. Pennebaker’s approach is pragmatic. He observes that journaling is not magic nor is it a panacea that can cure all of our problems. Rather, he describes it is an action that provides time to stop, pull back, and assess a problem from a different vantage point. “Expressive writing helps us organize our lives and put things together in ways we have not thought about before.” He notes that upheavals no longer appear as significant when we see them on paper.

How to Get Started with Expressive Writing

Dr. Pennebaker reassures us that there is no wrong way to approach expressive writing. For many years, he suggested people write for 3-4 days for 15 minutes at a time about a single issue that needed resolution. Over time, his research shows that similar goals can be accomplished in fewer days for some and that others might need more time. He encourages us to be our own scientist and to figure out what works best and do it.

Tips to get your started:

  • Focus on a single issue that’s bothering you.
  • Write about that one issue for brief stretches of time each day. This is likely to take anywhere from 1-5 days. Stop writing when the issue no longer troubles you.
  • Experiment with a variety of methods. Typing, handwriting, using your non-dominant hand are all worthwhile methods to explore.
  • Avoid the temptation to ruminate. If after five days you are still rehashing the same issue, give yourself permission to try something new like exercise, yoga, or meditation. Expressive writing can only succeed if it’s moving you toward a new way of thinking. This technique is not about dumping all our feelings onto a page. Rather it’s about taking a single issue and growing our understanding of the feelings it brings up so that we can work toward positive change.

Other Therapeutic Forms of Expression

We were curious to know Dr. Pennebaker’s thoughts on other therapeutic forms of expression and wondered how they might work in conjunction with journaling.

Dr. Pennebaker spoke of research done under his guidance by a dance therapist. She wondered if expressive dance might yield similar outcomes as expressive writing. Her dissertation findings were interesting.

She established 3 groups. The first group use expressive movement. The second group used expressive movement and writing. The third group did only exercise. Groups 1 and 2 reported their experiences to be positive, but only members of group 2 reported long-term benefits. Dr. Pennebaker’s student concluded that movement gets us in touch with deeper feelings and experiences and words help us to solidify longer term change. Art therapy works similarly in that someone is given materials to shape as they wish and then has an opportunity to discuss the process and the issues that arose.

Your Action Plan

If you found this conversation helpful, you might also enjoy our conversation with Deborah Ross in which we discuss journaling’s effects on the brain.

Journaling with Kids

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If you journal, you probably already know the reasons a consistent writing practice is helpful. Expressive writing helps us tune into powerful emotions, regulate daily habits, and organize our thoughts. Journaling fuels creativity, productivity, and mindfulness. But even the most avid of journalers might be surprised to discover the ways journaling can help the children in our lives experience the same beneficial outcomes.

My youngest kiddo is nine-years-old and lives with a chronic disease. As we navigate the challenges that this illness delivers, my husband and I try to provide our child with all of the best tools. As parents, we are committed to ensuring he has access to healthy foods, exercise, sunshine, and the medicines he requires. We check in regularly to discuss the emotions that may be welling up inside. For a long time, I felt like we had all the bases covered.

But although I’m a writer and a committed journaler myself, it never crossed my mind that this could be another tool to add to my child’s toolbox. Out of the blue one day, while my mind was on other things, my son asked, “Mom can I get a journal like yours and write in it with you before bedtime?” We’ve been journaling together ever since, and I’m in awe of what a meaningful part of his day it’s become.

When we started, I imagined my child journaling about monthly visits to the hospital or about taking unpleasant medicines.  How surprised I was to see that he filled his pages instead with drawings of the snow that’s fallen, play time with friends, and lines from a book of quotations he finds helpful. (Still quite young, my child shows me the pages of every entry he writes before we turn out the lights. I feel so fortunate!)

In writing with my son, two significant points stand out to me. Initially, I’d provided my son with all kinds of tips to help him make the most of his journaling experience believing he’d use this tool to process his disease. When he showed more interest in drawing pictures of the snowman his dad built him, I was reminded of the inner wisdom that resides in all of us. My son instinctively knows how to use this tool in a way that resonates for him. The second gem I gleaned was the fact that kids are watching us all of the time. They see the ways we care for ourselves (or don’t), and they will mirror our behaviors.

Our nighttime ritual is a simple one. We get in our jammies, grab our journals and special pens, hop into bed, and then we write. Usually ten minutes does the trick for my son, but the amount of time doesn’t matter. It’s the ritual of the act that grounds us. When he tells me he’s finished, my son likes to share what he’s written. I know this won’t always be the case, so I especially treasure this last part of our routine.

Tips to Get Started

If there is a special child in your life who might enjoy journaling,  here are ideas to help get you started.

  • Share your journaling practice. Show the child your journal, the special place you sit to write in it, and tell them about your process. If the child expresses interest, invite them to begin their own journaling practice.
  • Take your child shopping—to a store or online—and find a journal that they feel excited about. Make this event a moment they’ll remember always.
  • If your child is artistic, consider gifting them with an unlined journal with paper that’s durable enough to absorb paints, sketches, and collage work.
  • Journal with your child. Your enthusiasm is contagious.
  • If your child is young, writing might be tiring. Offer to be their scribe and write down all of the words for them. If the child is older and has difficulty writing, assure them that using a keyboard is okay.
  • If your child is on the younger side and you think they might enjoy this, invite them to share what they’ve written, while also assuring them it’s okay to keep ideas to themselves.
  • Remind your child they can fill their journals with so much more than words. Art, collage, ticket stubs from a fun event can all be drawn, pasted, and scotch taped to the pages of their journal.

Get Started with a Prompt

Many young (and older) journalers are enthusiastic to begin writing but have difficulty getting started. Writing prompts provide a starting point and will help keep your child’s pen moving.

I wish that I could see ____again.

If I could know the answer to any question it would be____.

Today the best things and worst things that happened were____.

I wish my best friend knew____.

I feel proud of myself when____.

I am good at____.

I wish I was better at____.

Even though I know ____ isn’t real it still frightens me.

I want to learn about____ because_____.

Someday I will visit____.

When I grow up my house will be____.

Nature makes me feel____.

You know this child well. If you like, create your own prompts that you believe may inspire them.

The way we present prompts to kids can be part of the magic. Maybe you give them one special idea to write about. You might also provide a list of prompts that they can choose from. Or how about filling a jar with prompts and each morning they close their eyes and choose one. Every day can be different if that method appeals. Other children will be comforted by a predictable rhythm and routine.

Among the most important gifts we give our children is the confidence to believe in their feelings and the curiosity to want to know more. Journaling is one way to facilitate these lessons. Enjoy!

An Exercise to Practice While Sheltering in Place, with Merle R. Saferstein

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In 1974, I participated in an Ira Progoff workshop in which we were given a values clarification exercise asking us to list twenty things that bring us happiness. Upon completion of the list, we were given a number of questions related to what we had written.

Based on that exercise, I have created the following exercise which I am currently using in journaling circles and legacy classes which I am facilitating.

List ten things that brought you joy prior to sheltering in place.

List ten things that currently bring you joy while sheltering in place.

  • Now that you are sheltering in place, do you see anything different about how you are bringing joy into your life?
  • What do you miss the most from before?
  • Do you think you might add something new to your life after, and if yes, what would that be?
  • Prior to sheltering in place, how did you reach out to others? Currently, how are you reaching out now? What does that look like for you?
  • Is there any way that you feel a shift in your core values since sheltering in place, and if yes, how does that look to you?
  • What did you learn from doing this exercise?
  • When I reflect on this, I notice….
  • When I reflect on this, I feel…
  • What makes me happiest these days is…