How to Start Journaling for Happiness and Better Mental Health

Journaling for Mental Health

I’ve solved significant life challenges with a pen and paper.

In the pages and pages of my journals lies my path to happiness.

I write without editing myself and pour it all into the page without always knowing what will happen at the end.

Every time, the end brings clarity, awareness, and grounding.

Not every journaling session brings a solution, but over time, it does.

I’ve had a journal since I was a kid, and if I was stranded on an island (yes, please) and could only bring three things with me, my journal would be one.

But what does happiness research say about journaling and happiness?

A lot. So, let’s dive in.

How does journaling make you happier?

Journaling reduces the risk of depression, helps you process challenging events in life, reduces feelings of distress, can increase psychological and physical health outcomes, and improves your well-being, increasing your happiness.

For this research breakdown, I pulled three well-respected studies on journaling and happiness.

“Emotional Writing and Emotional Well-being” Researchers: Frattaroli, J. 2002. Participants wrote expressively about a traumatic, emotional event in this study for three consecutive days. Measures of emotional well-being were taken before and after the writing sessions. The people who did expressive writing showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms and improved emotional well-being compared to those in the control group.

“Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval” Researchers: Smyth, J. M., 1998. Participants with a history of trauma were given a guided journal and asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event. The guided expressive writing intervention improved psychological and physical health outcomes, reduced symptoms of distress, and increased well-being in participants.

“Writing about the Benefits of an Upsetting Event: Effects of Expressive Writing on Posttraumatic Growth” Researchers: Zoellner, T., & Maercker, A. P., 2006. Participants wrote about the positive aspects and personal growth resulting from a past traumatic event for three consecutive days. Expressive writing about posttraumatic growth led to increased positive affect, reduced distress, and enhanced psychological well-being in participants.

“Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health” Researchers: Pennebaker, J. W., 2001. This study explored the relationship between expressive writing and various health outcomes by examining multiple existing studies. The meta-analysis revealed that expressive writing interventions were associated with improved physical and psychological health, reduced medical visits, and enhanced well-being across different populations.

Why does journaling make you happier?

Something about expressively journaling without judgment or editing creates so much grounding.

Here’s the summary of the findings from the research studies on happiness and journaling.

  1. Engaging in expressive writing improves psychological well-being and reduces distress.

  2. Expressive writing leads to a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  3. Emotional writing enhances emotional well-being and improves mood.

  4. Expressive writing interventions have positive effects on physical health outcomes.

  5. Writing about traumatic experiences facilitates healing and reduces symptoms of distress.

  6. Expressive writing promotes personal growth, self-esteem, and a sense of empowerment.

  7. Writing about emotional experiences helps individuals gain self-awareness and understanding of their emotions.

  8. Expressive writing has long-term benefits, contributing to sustained improvements in well-being.

  9. Emotional writing enhances sleep quality and overall physical health.

  10. Expressive writing interventions facilitate the integration and acceptance of traumatic experiences.

  11. Writing about the positive aspects of upsetting events promotes posttraumatic growth.

  12. Expressive writing increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotions.

  13. Writing about emotional experiences fosters social integration and interpersonal connections.

  14. Expressive writing enhances the cognitive and emotional processing of trauma.

  15. Writing about emotional experiences improves emotion regulation and coping strategies.

  16. Expressive writing increases openness in discussing emotions with others.

  17. Writing about emotional experiences helps individuals identify patterns and triggers.

So, pull out your journal. We’re about to get practical on how to use it to increase happiness.

How to start journaling for happiness

You will create a journaling practice where you open your journal each day and begin to write whatever comes to mind.

Here are three simple ways to increase happiness in expressive journaling.

Step 1: Set Up Your Journal

It doesn’t matter what kind of journal you use. It could be as simple as a notebook from Target and the closest pen to you. Just pick what feels right for you. Then, set a goal to write every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get.

Step 2: Write Your Feelings Freely

Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. This is just for you. Express your feelings honestly and openly. You can start by writing about your recent day or an event.

If you’re struggling, write about why it was tough.

If you’re feeling good, write about what made you happy.

Don’t hold back – if you’re angry, be angry; if you’re joyful, be joyful!

Step 3: Practice Gratitude

Every time you journal, list at least three things you’re grateful for. Research shows that practicing gratitude can boost happiness levels.

Over time, you’ll start to notice all the good things in your life that you might have overlooked before.

Remember, journaling is a personal journey. It’s not about making it perfect.

It’s about expressing yourself and discovering more about who you are.

So grab a pen, take a deep breath, start writing, and notice how you find yourself having your own solutions over time.

It’s a fantastic feeling, which you’ll capture one day and surprise yourself with.



The Just a Little Bit Happier Project is where I break down happiness research and resources into practical, actionable steps to gradually guide you towards your own happiness.

And once a week, I summarize it all in a newsletter.

I hope you join me in this journey, and that you’ll find it something you want to share with others. Let’s do this together.

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