penRemember those grade school assignments to keep a journal for a week or two? Well, your teacher may have really been on to something. Advocates from many disciplines encourage people to keep a journal.

“When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health,” Dr. James Pennebaker, psychology department chair of the University of Texas, says. “They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience.”

Benefits aren’t just limited limited to physical health. Pennebaker elaborated on these themes in a report in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. In theory, he writes, “The act of converting emotions and image into words changes the way a person organizes and thinks about the trauma.” Once a person captures a negative event in narrative form, “The event can now be summarized, stored, and forgotten more efficiently.”

“Because writing is so effective at alleviating emotional pain, Pennebaker believes the process can help treat a wide range of stress-related conditions in addition to asthma and arthritis,” Chris Woolston writes on “In a series of recent studies, Pennebaker and his colleagues have found that writing shows promise as a treatment for smoking cessation, depression, and in improving the health of HIV-positive patients.”

Another surprising benefit, according to Roger Hiemstra of Syracuse University, is the enhancement of personal growth and development. “Journaling is stimulating to mental development, enhancing breakthroughs in terms of new insights, and even planting seeds in terms of the future,” Hiemstra says. “Basically it is an investment in yourself through a growing awareness of personal thoughts and feelings.”

In her excellent article, “The Healing Powers of Journaling,” Christin Snyder discusses a number of advantages to the practice: “Journaling is an excellent method of clearing mind-clutter and managing thought patterns. … Writing prompts and exercises are a great way to wake up the inner muse. They keep us thinking on our toes, and often become the launching points of bigger projects.”

There are two other benefits: Journaling can keep us honest while allowing us to express ourselves without judgement. “When we approach journaling with an open mind and heart, and we commit to being completely candid with ourselves, we open up to limitless opportunity for growth and healing,” Snyder says.

Journaling helps us get organized, especially when it is enhanced with daily notes and “to-do” lists.

Conscious living is enhanced by the meditative benefits of writing. The quieting of self and the process of searching for the words leads us to enhanced conscious contact with our inner selves.

Journaling is a great way to measure our progress. Reviewing writings reveals progress, and often motivation can be harvested from review of successful progress.

For nearly 20 years, Pennebaker has been giving people an assignment: Write down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Pennebaker suggests the following:

  •  Find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed.
  •  Write continuously for at least 20 minutes.
  •  Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
  •  Write only for yourself.
  •  Write about something extremely personal and important to you.
  •  Deal only with events or situations you can handle.

See for yourself. There is very little financial investment required. Just find some time and that quiet space and put pen to paper and see what benefits you harvest.

This article by Roger was recently published on