The Strength & Necessity of Journaling

Somewhere in my house (and I know exactly where) there are a series of notebooks full of my journal. Some of those entries date back to when I was as young as twelve years old. I refer to this collection of writings as a “journal” and not a diary, quite honestly, because in my adolescent years I felt that keeping a diary was something only girls did, but keeping a journal… that was something done by every good leader and even way back then I had some aspirations to do and be more than just an average person. (For the record, I still feel very much like an average person; like I can do more with each day.)

In today’s world of social media, I feel that the necessity and strength of journaling has been lost. While we used to take pen to paper or even fingers to keyboard in any word-processing program, today’s young and just about everyone for the past ten years, have taken to social media instead. It’s interesting to me that the things people are criticized for sharing on social media are almost exactly the kinds of things that journaling or keeping a diary is good for. It’s a place where you can “vocalize” your thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism – but without hope of assistance or comfort either.  Still, there is a strength to journaling and I believe it’s something people should try to do, no matter how brief the entries may be.

Personal History and Learning

When I refer to “journaling” today, I mean essentially recording thoughts and feelings in any medium that can be saved for future reference. Yes, you are creating a record that might be referenced by anyone in the future and many of the things we journal we’d like to keep private – so the idea of actually making a record of them is uncomfortable. If you take the proper measures to keep your journal / diary secure (and I put “diary” there specifically to make you think about the little locked book, usually hidden away), then you can more freely share your thoughts, feelings and experiences with… yourself. The power of having a journal to read years and decades later can be insightful. When I look back in mine i can see times where I was challenged, feeling defeated, confused, scared and more. I can also see where I overcame those challenges, fears and confusion. I can sometimes, depending on what I wrote, see how I met the challenges, overcame fears, etc. and help myself through some new challenge today or in the future.

It’s also very enjoyable to look back on some of the memories I documented. The reason i wrote them down was because they were somehow significant or especially meaningful in my life at that time and to who I was then. It’s not uncommon to have forgotten about such events or some of the details, and to read those memories brings them back fresh and enjoyable. They serve as reminders of things I’ve enjoyed in my life; sometimes things that aren’t common experiences for most people, or things that are too often forgotten. Recalling those memories and enjoying a moment with them brings joy to the current day and can serve to remind us that our lives have more happiness and joy than we might be experiencing at the present moment.

Value to Children and Grandchildren

Whether we like to think about it or not, we all pass from this realm of existence at some point. When my father died, my older sister took possession of his journals; books he had only started keeping/writing since he had formally retired and (as far as I know) moved to his “retirement home.” It wasn’t an assisted living facility or anything like that. He bought a house near the beach and sold the house where he had raised the family / his children. Each day he wrote a brief description of the day, the things he’d enjoyed, some minor challenges he might have faced, etc. At the end of each day’s entry he wrote “Thank you, God.” I never knew my dad to be a man of great religious faith so even that simply ending to each day’s entry offered significant insight into his outlook, his beliefs and his faith.

What’s in those entries… what’s in his journal… is an expression of who he was and the experiences or thoughts he considered of value enough to write down. He, like every other person, saw value in being remembered after he passed away, and he created a record of that small piece of himself or his thoughts, feelings and daily experiences that he knew others would read. I can’t help but believe he did that for his family members, and knowing him, probably for his grandchildren and their children and so on. Those journals are truly unique and cannot be replaced. I quite often wish I could read journals from other relatives who have passed because I held them in high regard and I wish I had a greater opportunity to learn from them. If they had written journals that would be potential wisdom I and others could learn from.

Unknown Future Generations

I have always found archeology and history fascinating. My Masonic Lodge opened a time capsule created by a Brother Mason over fifty years ago. The Lodge held it in safe keeping all that time and, when opened, it offered a glimpse into the thoughts, events and outlooks of the time during which it was created. The whole idea of creating a time capsule interests me and I wonder at the ability to store something which documents today but isn’t opened or viewed for two or more generations in the future. The world is so radically different today from what it was in 1970 and it was so radically different then from what it was in 1920. What will the world be like in 2070 and how will they view our technologies and daily lives then? How ancient, simple and different will we seem to them?

Journals are a time capsule of sorts. If you disagree with me, I encourage you to read the writings of Plato, Socrates and other “ancient” philosophers and teachers. If you feel that’s not a fair example of what I’m discussing, then read the diaries and notes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin or others from 250 years ago. Then take a minute to realize that what you’re reading are portions of their journals. These are famous men – and there are an equal number of women throughout history if we but take time to seek out their work – who are known for the actions they performed and the attitudes they expressed. Their actions are documented by themselves and others. Their attitudes are most accurately recorded in their own journals and diaries. Those have proven valuable to far more than just their children and grandchildren.

Of course, none of us is Washington, Jefferson or Franklin, right? While that is absolutely true, you never know what the future holds, nor how people will one day view you. You don’t know what may happen in a year or two that calls you into the limelight and what may one day leave people curious about who you were as a person rather than just whatever public persona you end up with. All too often we’ve seen social media posts come back to haunt public figures. The 150+ characters used to create entries back and forth between rivals that create the image of children bickering are sometimes useful for insight into a person, but generally useless when it comes to documenting one’s life, experiences, values, belief structure and privately held beliefs. If contemporary elected officials journaled more and tweeted less, they’d likely be held in higher respect.

And now I’ll leave you with one last thought on journaling: it can be used as a tool to create a wondrous gift for a loved one. When we are young and courting the person we come to love, marry and build a family with, we have so many feelings and thoughts that are free of the filter of life’s experiences, challenges, trauma, etc. The outlook of a young man courting his lady, and all the things he says to her as he tries to win her love, is unique. The thoughts a person has who has been married for five years are different. The thoughts of that same person five, ten and fifteen or more years later are different again. But the love we hold for that special someone grows, evolves and adjusts to fit life together as day to day life changes around us. The challenge is to spend one year… just 365 days, journaling your day (in brief) with your significant other. Journal the good days. Journal the challenging days. Journal the truly enjoyable, wondrously fantastic days. Journal the days where you had disagreements but also journal how you overcame the disagreement. Journal the times you were lazy together, active together, cuddled, snuggled, ran, swam, vacationed, were silly, were serious and more. Do it for a year. At the end of the year, sign it and hand it to your significant other. Recognize that it offers that person who you hold dear an insight into how you view your relationship and see each day through the filter of their presence in it.

In the process of creating that journal you might document events that you’d one day forget or that your children might never know about. You’ll likely document happy and sad times as well as challenging and joyous times. It’s up to you whether you write in those especially fantastic romantic moments (but I’d be careful about how much detail you put in there). The point is to create a small document… just 365 entries. If nothing else, it shows that you thought about that significant other every day for the year, and proves it in a way they can hold onto forever. It will one day serve as an example to your children, their children and so on, of the type of love you shared.

THAT is the power of journaling and just part of the reason why you should keep one – if not daily, then at least a few times each week. Start today. An essay book is cheap – usually less than one dollar. They have 100 pages or more each. Find a pen you like. Actually write. If that’s not you, create a file on your computer and start typing. Want something more contemporary or future looking? Create a folder and start recording your personal entries. Just start recording and talk to your computer. Include the date in each entry and in the name of each file. Each year burn that folder onto a CD for long term storage and reference. Leave a document of some kind so that when you pass away, your family has more than just the memories from their perspective; they have insight and memories from your perspective – and that’s a part of you no one else can create a document of.

 

One thought on “The Strength & Necessity of Journaling

  • October 13, 2019 at 21:00
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    Fantastic article Frank. Reminded me of all the reasons I’ve loved journaling for years, and how important it is to continue- even when I don’t feel like the old pen and paper will suffice. Thanks for your words.

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