My grandmother passed away a year ago this past Easter, and when she did, her extensive journals resurfaced—years of writing that ended upon her eyesight greatly diminishing.
The books contained passages that documented a simple yet well-lived life: writings of her grandchildren, memories of her marriage, and the day-to-day musings of bingo and whatever TV show she was watching at the time. At times, she even spoke to the reader directly.
We spent the days surrounding her passing reading these journals, and it became clear to us that, by writing them, she—above anybody else—was composing her own eulogy. Mentions of songs that she wanted played at her funeral and even a closing passage that seemed to sum up her wishes for future generations all dictated the tone and structure of her burial services.
It got me thinking about my own journal habits. Indeed, I journaled fairly regularly from about the time I was 15 until 23. After that, life took over, mild depression hit (who on earth feels like writing when they’re depressed?), and the books collected dust.
Discovering my grandmother’s journals and seeing the solace it gave her immediate family in a time of need inspired me to pick up the pen and begin where I had left off. It’s now been over a year of almost daily entries with no sign of stopping.
Creating a regular discipline like this has opened my eyes to the wonderful effect writing in a journal can have on one’s life—at least based on my own experience. Here are five reasons why I journal, and why you might want to start as well:
1. It’s a form of time-travel.
I’m kidding…sort of. At the very least, it’s a form of telepathy, as Stephen King describes in his memoir, On Writing. In King’s book, he talks to the reader from his desk on a snowy December morning in 1997 while writing the first draft. He even tells the reader that they are reading this “some time down the line” after the book’s proposed publication in 2000. In that moment, as we’re reading that passage, our mind is linked to his, transcending decades. It may be whimsical to think that way, but when applying this to the act of journaling, it can have profound effects on our motivation to continue.
There is no doubt in my mind, as I record my life, that someone down the line will be reading the words I write. It may be a grandchild. It may be a complete stranger. I may be the one to open my personal time capsule, or perhaps (and preferably) they will be opened when I’m gone. By writing my thoughts down in books that then get stored away, I ensure that someone in the future will be reading them. And so, I sometimes speak directly to that future someone—whoever they may be. I tell them to drop what they’re doing and read a book I just finished or lament about the current political climate. I share with them, uniting our minds across years of events and stories.
Plus, in today’s culture of success and overachievement, by keeping a discipline of journaling, we can revel in the simple accomplishment of having added to the record keeping of our legacy. If nothing else, that’s something to be proud of.
2. It’s an excellent morning or evening exercise.
Over the years, I’ve tried my journal writing at the end of the day and at the beginning. Right now, I’m on a kick of making it one of the first things I do each morning. As a morning exercise, it is an incredible tool to jog your brain and wake it up. Even just the simple act of handwriting can be enough to jump-start your day. Even your daily emails will be more coherent because your focus has already been harnessed after spending 15 to 20 minutes recording your thoughts on paper.
As an evening exercise, journaling can be a wonderful way to process the day you just had and wind down for the night. Do you spend the last 30 minutes of your day scrolling through your Instagram feed? Why not cut down on that time and replace it with a journal? Your eyesight will thank you, and by partaking in such a calming exercise, you may even be able to sleep better as well. Writing down the events of your day can help you to process your experiences from a big-picture perspective. Perhaps your day wasn’t as bad as you thought it was. Write it down and find out.
3. Gratitude’s the attitude.
This is the classic journaling practice. I’ve done the exercises where I’ve written nothing but gratitude, page after page, omitting all the bad, trying desperately to manifest my desired life—but it didn’t quite work out for me. I now like to take a slightly more realistic approach in documenting the truth of my experiences and my genuine thoughts and fears.
Yet, I’ve found that by keeping a regular discipline of writing, gratitude still creeps in—often in a more pronounced and genuine way than ever before. By recounting seemingly small events—a simple conversation or a transit ride in an empty subway—you slowly become more aware of the otherwise “normal” pleasantries that occur quite frequently in your day-to-day life, which can start to change the way you think.
4. It can help you articulate your goals.
In a January 2013 entry, I simply stated, “I will expand my reach, internationally, as a performer.” By March of that year, I had performed in another country for the first time. I had no way of knowing that this would happen—it just sort of evolved. But I think articulating my goals certainly helped.
Aside from that, at times where I’ve felt stagnant in my career, I’ve been able to look back on entries such as this one and recognize not only that amazing things can and do happen, but also the growth I’ve obtained both personally and professionally over time. Sometimes, goals I expressed just weren’t meant to happen; other times, they were and the way in which they unfolded were beyond what I could have predicted.
5. Your story matters.
Of all the reasons to journal, I think this one is the most important. At the end of the day, when you scan over the many journals in which you’ve poured your thoughts, dreams, desires, and seemingly insignificant day-to-day musings, one thing becomes clear—your story matters. Everyone has a story to tell, and no, perhaps we don’t have publishers knocking on our door to get it out into the world. But we can, on our own terms, document our lives in a way that may just matter to someone down the road; perhaps personally or as a snapshot of our community, culture, or the point in time in which we lived on this earth.
My grandmother’s journals are simple enough. They’re not adventures or thrillers that document years of overcoming turmoil. They tell a quiet tale, yet they are engaging reads. And in writing them, she left something for her family—and generations after—to look back on, learn, and draw inspiration from.
It’s with that inspiration that I resume my years of journaling, hopefully for some time to come. They may not amount to much, but in the meantime, as I write my story, I continue to grow and learn—embracing change and recognizing the simplistic wonder that is my life.