Can you write your way to happiness?


Can the simple act of putting pen to paper to record one’s daily thoughts and reflections offer any tangible rewards?

A Guardian article looks at how a growing number of diarists are using expressive writing or ‘bullet journalling’ to improve their health and productivity. But does keeping a daily log actually work?

Ollie Aplin, the founder of MindJournal, is confident his journal can help men, pointing out that journalling has helped him to cope with anxiety, panic attacks and even PTSD. He was advised to pick up a pen, he reveals, while recovering from a breakdown following his mother’s suicide.

“I feel with expressive journalling, almost like emotional therapeutic journalling, you need a sense of guidance and framework. You don’t even have to have a mental health problem to be using this thing. It is a healthy habit to track everything you are feeling and going through, just as a way of processing stuff that happened in everyday life.”

Journalling allowed him to start sharing his experiences, offering a way to explore his thoughts and to communicate with his therapist when talking was impossible.

While guided journals such as MindJournal encourage reflection, the explosion of bullet journalling is rooted in the rather broader attempt to Organise Life.

It’s a combination of short-form note taking, drawing and detailed planning and its success is palpable: a glimpse at Instagram reveals page after page of beautifully illustrated, multicoloured and intricately coded charts and calendars detailing tasks, recording emotions and offering an apt quote.

“The Bullet Journal is actually years-worth of me dealing with my own organisational challenges. I had to have something that was as flexible as the way that I thought. A lot of times when I have an idea, it starts as an image or feeling or something like that; there was no note-taking system that I have ever been exposed to that not only allowed me to capture the information, but also to find it again later.”

In a nutshell, the basics of bullet journalling lie in creating an indexed breakdown of the year – each month and each day – with tasks jotted down daily and then either checked off, scheduled or relocated into other parts of the journal. Notes on everything from reading lists to life goals can also be taken and cross-referenced, with a selection of symbols used to add extra meaning to thoughts or events. After the system has been mastered, individuals can tune it to their own needs.

Notes on everything from reading lists to life goals can also be taken and cross-referenced, with a selection of symbols used to add extra meaning to thoughts or events. After the system has been mastered, individuals can tune it to their own needs.

Bullet journalling – or even simply making canny use of a calendar  – has the advantage over to-do lists of not just coming up with a plan, but assigning exactly when and where a task will be tackled.

The danger of to-do lists is that on any given day you get to pick which things you do. Often, you are picking the easiest things off the list and there is a section of the list that stagnates, so you do the hardest, most undesirable things later. Specific is better than vague and having a time set aside is better than leaving it up in the air.