“Journey to Joy” When my other outlets were taken away, I turned more heavily towards a healthy outlet I had used inconsistently for years: journaling. Granted it was physically difficult to get into a position that was conducive to journaling since all I could do was lay down, but I found it possible if I put some pillows under my stomach while I was in bed. It supported my spine enough that I could write for short periods of time before I needed to flip over into my back and just relax again.
Personally, I’ve always found writing to be cathartic and enjoyable…otherwise I wouldn’t have launched a blog! I’ve kept a journal on and off since high school, mostly for when things made me upset or weren’t going well. My journal was a safe space for me to admit I was struggling, a place where I didn’t have to burden someone else with my difficult emotions or complex thoughts. I never wanted to be that friend, who only talked about what was going wrong. So when things were at their worst, my journal was an ever-listening ear and my most trusted companion.
Journaling has taught me two important lessons Journey to Joy. The first is that I have to listen to my body and pay attention to what it’s trying to tell me. If I’m feeling like I can’t hold a particular emotion in anymore, I stop trying to hold it in, and let it all out on paper. When I do this, I usually find the root cause of an issue, and gain more clarity than I had anticipated finding. The second lesson that it’s taught me is that it’s better to have a few moments of directed focus via journaling, instead of allowing thoughts to swim around your head and distract you for weeks on end.
The act of journaling in and of itself is often highly contemplative. By partaking in a reflective process, you get to see patterns that may otherwise go unnoticed. If you’re having trouble getting something off your mind, I recommend sitting down with pen and paper and dedicate 15 minutes to it. This focused attention allows you to work through things in an organized fashion, instead of letting it take up all of the mental background distraction for weeks on end. Of course there isn’t always a perfect solution right away, but I always gain some insights to the issue I’m trying to understand or solve.
After my injury, I spent days writing about how awful my life was because I couldn’t move and was in constant pain. This time, writing wasn’t going to solve anything. I needed time to heal and be patient with my body, yet I was ultra-focused on the frustration and negativity of the situation. Then I recognized and understood something new. When we frequently focus our attention on negative experiences, our brains adapt and inadvertently become primed for negativity and negative reactions.
This is not a guess, this is how neuro-biology works. Its why your first attempt at learning to ride a bike was hard, but after practicing you can do it without thinking, even years later. These reinforced neural connections help you to successfully learn new skills and function in this way. If you consistently spend your time fixated on negativity, consciously or subconsciously, you begin to see the whole world through that unfortunate lens. But that should also give you hope, because that also means that if you actively tune into positivity and joy, it will become easier to experience as those neural connections begin to strengthen and grow.
I still journal when I go through challenging times, by no means and I suggesting that negative emotions should be ignored. I’m actually an advocate that they should be felt and worked through, because they tell you something’s wrong and knowing what’s wrong can usually lead to a solution. However, they should not be the sole focus of your brain’s activity. Now when I experience negative emotions, I set a timer for 20 minutes so that I don’t spend too much of my time writing down thoughts that don’t serve me. It’s a good way to allow myself to feel and acknowledge them, without focusing excessive amounts of time and energy on them.
After recognizing how helpful journaling was for working through my negative emotions, I decided to start writing down my happy and positive experiences to my Journey to Joy. It helped me to document the things in life that brought me joy and helped to give myself a clearer picture of what a happy Christina looks like. It’s so easy to just say “oh yeah, I know what makes me happy”, but then suddenly someone else asks you and you need to stop and think about it. By journaling and summarizing my happiest days, I recognized that each had some strong commonalities. I’m generalizing here, but deeply connecting with other people, feeling like I accomplished something or was productive, and being kind to myself were all staples in each of my happy days that I recorded in my journal.
I understand that journaling isn’t for everyone, but one of my goals is to give you new ideas and tools that may push you out of your comfort zone. This might be a good time to work on being uncomfortable in order to understand yourself and the world better. Maybe consider keeping a journal for one week. Seven days. Anybody can do it for seven days, and you may just start to notice some of your own patterns. I journaled my way to a joyful life, and I hope that you give it a try too.
Some questions before you adventure off… “Journey to Joy”
Do you currently journal? Are you open to the idea of it for something new?
Do you currently focus on the positive or negative experiences in life? How does that focus serve you and your goals?
If someone asked you tomorrow what made you happy, would you know immediately, or would you have to think about it?