The Emergency Happiness Diary

I saw Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds mentioned on Boing Boing the other day and on a whim I started reading it. It reminded me of another book I’d enjoyed, Brain Rules. Both are what you might call “self-help” books based on legitimate, well-researched, scientific experiments. Real data. Plus, it has a great title! The hook in 59 seconds is that each chapter ends with “one minute advice” on how to improve your situation. Who doesn’t want to improve themselves in a minute? What can I say? I’m a sucker.

I’m only about halfway through so far but it starts out with what I thought was an interesting idea. Keep something like an Emergency Happiness Diary that you can use to periodically boost your happiness.

Several studies show that writing about traumatic or negative events — specifically writing where you can structure your thoughts into some type of narrative — can help you work through psychological problems, increase your self-esteem, your own measure of happiness, and even reduce health problems. Similarly, writing about how grateful you are for good things that have happened to you will boost your feeling of happiness, make you more optimistic about the future, and apparently will make you more likely to exercise. Reliving an intensely happy moment through writing? That’ll make you happier. Spend some time writing about a person you love? You’re going to wind up happier, with reduced stress, and even a notable decrease in your cholesterol levels.

Happiness, it seems, is worth pursuing. So, somewhat incredibly, here’s one way to get it. Start an Emergency Happiness Diary and keep it for five days. Just five days. On those five days write the following types of entries.

Day One: Thanksgiving

Look back over you past week and list three things you’re grateful for. A friend, a close relationship you’re in, your health, your home, your job, a happy memory … the list goes on.

Day Two: A Great Experience

Imagine “one of the most wonderful experiences in your life” and quickly write down how you felt at that moment without concern for grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

Day Three: The Future

Imagine a future where everything has gone really well for you. Nothing fantastical like winning a giant American lottery but instead a future where you’ve succeeded through hard work at your goals and ambitions. “Imagine that you have become the person that you really want to be, and that your personal and professional life feels like a dream come true.” It won’t help you achieve your goals “but it will help you feel good and put a smile on your face.”

Day Four: Affection

Write a short letter to someone you know to tell them how much they mean to you.

Day Five

Review the past seven days noting things that went really well. Write down a quick sentence about three of those things explaining why those things might have turned out so well.

And that’s it. It’s just five days with five short entries. Each type of entry is backed by several studies showing how this type of writing will make you notably happier. According to Wiseman, “you should quickly notice the difference in mood and happiness, changes that may persist for months. If you feel the effects wearing off, simply repeat the exercise.” That’s kind of neat.

Have you tried something like this out? Are you thinking about it?

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Ian Stewart

Ian Stewart is probably thinking about WordPress Themes right this very minute.

2 thoughts on “The Emergency Happiness Diary”

  1. I’ve been trying to work through my issues via blogging since writing is practically impossible now. So far though, not much luck. Some of the issues I have are from so long ago that I feel rather stupid about how badly they still affect me which in turn makes it hard to write about.

    I will give this book a read though. I tend to like his books.

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