Journaling: Build Happiness in 4 Minutes


Dear diary, it’s me. Dan. Today I ate eggs (again) and wrote a weekly newsletter to a community of people invested in the health of their brains.

With the Dawn of the internet and social media, journalling has gone out of fashion. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are documented online instead, through the lense of a glossy filter. However, using a pen and paper to jot down reflections has been shown to improve happiness and wellbeing. Perhaps it’s time to pick up a journal again?


Harvard researchers set up an online survey to test whether simple writing exercises could increase in-the-moment happiness among people recovering from substance use disorders.

531 entries later, the results were clear.

Journaling was shown to be an effective tool for boosting happiness. Even better, 93% of the participants felt confident that they could integrate simple journalling exercises into their daily routine.


The act of journaling has so many benefits it calls for a bulleted list.

  • Reduce depression, anxiety, and stress

  • Cope with emotions

  • Create focus

  • Develop insight

  • Reflect on behaviour or feelings

 Journaling doesn’t need to be a chore where you write in a book that you hide under your pillow (or, um - place on your bedside table). You just need a method that allows you to reflect on past and future experiences.

 Some ideas to get started:

Practice gratitude. Gratitude can make you happier, improve relationships, counteract depression, and boost your health. I note 3 things from the day I’m grateful for every night before I go to sleep. Make this a daily habit with this gratitude app.

Enhance your “to do” list. Instead of just a list of things you need to do, write about a few ways you’d like to connect with people in your life. In my last company I got everyone to work on their "to be" lists which was a really helpful way to encourage people to stay true to themselves and reach their potential.

Prime yourself. Take 30 seconds every morning before leaving the bed to ask yourself:  "Where will my joy come from today?". Note down a few ideas, regardless how small: making pancakes, going for a walk, petting a cat (guaranteed joy).

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 Though in general, it’s good to practice repetition when it comes to building habits, journaling doesn’t necessarily need to be a daily habit.

The Harvard crew I mentioned earlier found that all you need to experience a significant dose of instant happiness is a pen, a journal, and at least four minutes.

The researchers distilled their findings into three exercises. For brevity’s sake, I’ve summed up the study's ultimate crowd pleaser. If all you do is practice this, you’ll be set.

Reliving Happy Moments, a.k.a. Instagram circa 1980

  1. Dig up a picture of a specific happy memory. Stare longingly at said photo. Steep in your emotions.

  2. Crystallize the memory in words. Get specific. Who was there? Where were you? Maximum detail produces maximum happiness.

  3. Scribble your description in a notebook. Bonus points for penning sonnets or whipping out Top-40 ballads.

Four minutes might not seem like much but 93% of participants said happiness was worth the time investment. You decide.

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