female hands with pen writing on notebook on grass outside

Daily reflection is a key to happiness

For a long time, I’d been alarmed by how little I remembered about my own past. In particular, because one of my resolutions is to “Appreciate this time of life,” I felt the impulse to keep a record of the pattern of our days (not to mention the funny things my children said) so I’d remember this time of life later.

The idea of keeping a proper journal was far too daunting, so I decided instead to keep a “one-sentence journal.”

Each night, I write one sentence (well, actually, usually it’s three or four sentences, but by calling it a “one sentence journal” I keep my expectations realistic) about what happened that day to me, the Big Man, and the girls.

Studies show that recalling happy times helps boost happiness in the present. Also, when people reminisce, they focus on positive memories, with the result that recalling the past amplifies the positive and minimizes the negative. However, because people remember events better when they fit with their present mood, while happy people remember happy events better, depressed people remember sad events better – which makes them feel worse.

Right now, I can’t imagine forgetting the time when my daughter said politely, “Can I have some more pajamas on my pasta?” when she meant “parmesan,” but I will, I will.

And I’ll forget what it was like to have a child who still sleeps in a crib, or one who is reading Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays for the first time. I’ll forget the huge amount of meat that my husband once grilled in a single evening.

My hope is that, years from now, when I’m trying to remember what life was like at this point, I can look back at my one-sentence journal.

Of course, I’ve missed a lot of days. Although I’ve been trying to keep it up for a year, it still hasn’t quite solidified into a habit. I’ve let ten days go by, without thinking about the journal once. But still, I’ve managed to get a lot of memories down on paper.

When I get back from vacation, I’m going to use my beloved Lulu.com to print out three “books” of the journal’s first year – one for the Big Man and me, one for each of the girls.

My path-breaking happiness formula holds that to be happy, you must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Keeping this journal is a project that adds to my happiness in all of these ways: it helps keep happy memories vivid (because I’m much more inclined to write about happy events than unhappy events); it gives me a reason to thinking lovingly about my family; it’s manageable, so it doesn’t make me feel burdened; it makes me feel like a good mother who is passing happy memories along to my children; and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and progress.

 


A version of this post originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website, where Gretchen writes about her experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits.