Building in a regular practice of writing (ideally every day) can bring an immense number of both mental and psychical benefits. Here are a few ways that writing for just 15 minutes per day has be scientifically proven to improve wellbeing, and how you can try them out for yourself.
1) Increasing positive emotions
Megan Hayes, positive psychology researcher, creative writing lecturer and author of Write Yourself Happy (2018) developed a programme in which writing activities were used to improve positive emotions. She developed writing exercises which she investigated in her ‘Positive Journalling’ experiments about increasing feelings such as joy, gratitude, hope and love.
Try it yourself:
Write 3 things you are grateful for before sleeping each night.
2) Decrease in stress and depression and improve physical health
Psychologist and researcher, Joseph Pennebaker ran a study in 1997 called ‘Expressive Writing’. In this study, participants wrote everyday for four days about a traumatic experience that they had gone through. This simple act showed a reduce in stress and depression, but also an improvement in physical health and immune system. Participants reported less doctors visits and illness after 6 months of doing the writing exercises than the control group.
Try it yourself:
Here are the instructions for the Pennebaker experiment, try writing this for 15 minutes for 4 consecutive days for the most impact:
“In your writing, I would like you to really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts about the most traumatic experience in your entire life. You might tie this trauma to other parts of your life: your childhood, your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends, relatives, or other people important to you. You might link your writing to your future and who you would like to become your future, or to who you have been, who you would like to be, or who you are now. Not everyone has had a single trauma, but all of us have had major conflicts or stressors, and you can write about these as well. All your writing is confidential. There will be no sharing of content. Do not worry about form or style, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, or grammar.”
3) Helps you set goals and improve sense of meaning in life
Positive Psychologist, Laura King, ran a study in 2001 called ‘The Best Possible Self’, in which participants were asked to write in detail for 15 minutes a day over 4 days about their best possible self. Participants saw an increase in positive emotions, a decrease in negative ones and an improved physical wellbeing. Furthermore, they felt more meaning in life and more closely connected to their goals.
Try it yourself:
Take a moment to imagine your life in the future. What is the best possible life you can imagine? Consider all of the relevant areas of your life, such as your career, academic work, relationships, hobbies, and/or health. What would happen in these areas of your life in your best possible future?
For the next 15 minutes, write continuously about what you imagine this best possible future to be. Use the instructions below to help guide you through this process.
It may be easy for this exercise to lead you to examine how your current life may not match this best possible future. You may be tempted to think about ways in which accomplishing goals has been difficult for you in the past, or about financial/time/social barriers to being able to make these accomplishments happen. For the purpose of this exercise, however, we encourage you to focus on the future—imagine a brighter future in which you are your best self and your circumstances change just enough to make this best possible life happen.
This exercise is most useful when it is very specific—if you think about a new job, imagine exactly what you would do, who you would work with, and where it would be. The more specific you are, the more engaged you will be in the exercise and the more you’ll get out of it.
Be as creative and imaginative as you want, and don’t worry about grammar or spelling.
Try writing this for 15 minutes for 4 consecutive days for the most impact.
4) Feel more creative and spiritually connected
Julia Cameron, author of An Artists Way advocates writing 3 pages of stream-of-conciousness writing on waking each morning as a ‘brain-dump’ activity. It is the beginning part of a process of using writing to reconnect with the creative potential in all of us, and how that power of creativity connects us to the higher power of creation in the universe.
Try it yourself:
The practice of Morning Pages is simple: write three pages, long-hand, upon (or nearly upon) waking. No thinking, no analyzing, no stressing. Just write. Put pen to paper and squiggle it around until it forms words.
If you are interested in learning more way to write therapeutically, my Writing for Wellbeing course runs for 6 weeks on a Sunday 5-6:30 on the 3rd March.