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How to Journal Your Way to Happiness

posted: 05/23/18
by: Katie Morton

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There are many times in life that we are faced with difficulties that are so intense and problematic, that our happiness can take a hit. Surprisingly, with a few simple journaling techniques, it doesn't have to be that way!

With four simple journaling prompts, you can change your perspective about any problem that looms large and be well on your way to fixing the issue in the process. Here's how.

Think of your biggest problem in life, the thorniest, most stressful issue you have. There are probably a lot of keyed up emotions you have about it, which can throw us into full-on catastrophe mode. You're going to learn how to smash through that mountain and turn it into a molehill.

In this article, we're going to use the example of a child being bullied in school and the fears and emotions the child's mother might have when dealing with the situation. While the techniques and statistics around bullying have grown much scarier lately, bullies have been around as long as schools and kids have existed (and probably even before that.) So it's a good issue to tackle as an example because it's a problem that it's very easy to feel desperate, frightened, and depressed about.

Make no mistake: being desperate, frightened, and depressed are not going to solve the issue. So lest you think I'm trying to minimize the problem of bullying, just remember: what we are trying to do here is to help your emotions get to a place of positivity and strength, and hopefully to come to some possible solutions and actions to take.

Step One: Just the facts

The first step is to outline the issue and stick to the current facts. In the bullying example, the tendency is to look at statistics of kids who are bullied and the negative effects bullying has and to come to conclusions that are very scary and depressing.

But in this example, the mom is going to journal her way to a solution, and the statistics don't cover the children who are supported so well by a mother who is going to solve the problem.

So instead of "awfulizing" the situation, I want you to journal things in more plain terms. Some kids aren't nice. For example, "My nice kid is having to deal with not-nice kids." Perhaps the school is ignoring the problem. Write it down, but don't exaggerate. Take out any assumptions you've been making, and only write what you know for sure.

What you want to do is to write down the current situation as it exists--but try not to invent terrible outcomes or to project a lot of negative emotions and energy onto the situation. Try to stay neutral.

Step Two: Positive Spin

Our minds are prone to spinning tales of scary negativity, so it's assumed--if this is a problem that's making you unhappy--you've already got the negative spin on the facts covered. So for this part of the exercise, we want to give the positive spin equal airtime.

Review the facts of your issue and look for positive ways to see the situation. In the bullying example, the mother might be able to see that:

Outside of the bullies, her child has other friends in her class or in extracurricular activities. If the teacher is of no help, the school may have other resources to turn to for conflict resolution, such as the principle or a counselor. This mother can look for qualities of strength in her child, such as resilience, smarts, or a sense of humor that can help her child cope. The mom can also realize that she's being presented with an opportunity to help teach her kid a great lesson in learning how to deal with difficult people--an excellent life skill to have at all ages!

Take a look at your own issue and look for those positive spins you've probably done a good job of ignoring. Bring the positives to light and watch your mood begin to brighten.

Step Three: Possible Positive Outcomes

Now it's time to look to the future, and to see that if perhaps things change, or a resolution is reached, that there are possible positive outcomes. These don't need to necessarily be "realistic"--they only need to be possible. Our minds are very good at coming up with possible negative outcomes that might be just as unlikely. So once again, in the spirit of giving the positive equal airtime in your mind, fantasize about ways things could go right.

The children could stop bullying because they get help they need, as well as the positive discipline that could keep them out of trouble. The bullied child could learn how to effectively stand up for herself. The bullied child could also learn that "hurt people hurt people" and that what the bullies are saying isn't important; it only says something about the bullies, and not her. The bullied child could learn that a lot of people are difficult, but that it doesn't have to impact her happiness.

Look at your own issue and see ways that things might turn out for the best. Look for silver linings and positive perspectives. Optimism could start setting in now, or at least your fear mode might be on vacation.

Step Four: Possible Solutions

In this step, if there's something you could do about the situation, then it's time to brainstorm some possible actions to take.

In the example of the mother of the bullied child, she could find out what the process is at the school for dealing with bullying, and she can make an appointment to discuss the situation with the principal, teacher, or a counselor. She can also decide she's going to spend more quality time with her child, so that the child is very aware of how loved and supported she is. The mom can do some research on how to deal with difficult people and--regardless of whether the school helps or not--the mother can help teach her child how to handle herself in life when people are mean.

In your own situation, maybe all you needed was a perspective shift, which the first three steps can help with. Or in doing these exercises, you might have realized there are some actions you can take that would either solve or lessen your problem.

Whatever you do, resist the urge to go into "Negative Nelly" mode. Instead, flip the script in your mind to the positive, and watch your perspective--and your mood shift in a more positive direction.