Twenty years ago, I picked up what turned out to be a stubborn habit.
During a particularly angsty time in seventh grade, I began writing in a journal every night. I’d record what I’d done that day and my thoughts about it. Over the decades, I filled stacks of notebooks with my musings on life. Then, sometime in 2011, I realized that I was writing so much about my life for my personal blog and elsewhere that journaling on top of that felt draining. I’m always looking for ways to save time, so I put my pens and notebooks away.
But I did keep one concession to the concept. In the late spring of 2012, I created a file on my laptop called "Best Summer Ever." Each day, I’d write down at least one quirky, memorable, or fun thing that happened. Some research backs up the idea that writing down good things can improve your life; Fast Company recently included keeping a gratitude journal in its roundup of 10 Simple Science-Backed Ways to be Happier Today.
I suspect, though, that there are more or less effective ways to keep such a journal. I’m always grateful for my family, my friends, and my health. Writing these things down every day is probably nice . . . but it gets old soon. The idea behind my Best Summer Ever list is that I wanted specific evidence—evidence that would conjure up detailed memories—that I had an awesome life.
Sure enough, as I started gathering data every day on why I was having my best summer ever, 2012 did indeed shape up to be the best summer of my life (so far!). Matt Lauer interviewed me on the Today Show. I was the judge in a pie-baking contest, which meant I had to sample an almost obscene number of competitively baked pies. On one memorable day in August, I was there with my three kids when the gates opened in the morning at Legoland California, and we pretty much closed that park down at night. I look back on that document of awesomeness, and I go: "Wow."
So I kept a similar list this summer. The highs have not been as high, but still, looking at a random day and remembering that I went for a bike ride, a trail run, and a swim (a "tri" day!) makes me pretty happy. And this is the more important takeaway: If I’m having a kind of blah day, I am forced to sit there and think, What would I want to write down on my list? I need to think of something, and so I conjure up a way to create a happy memory. Even something as simple as concocting the world’s best milk shake from the lemon gelato a party guest left in our freezer and some fresh strawberries and blueberries can be enough to rescue a day.
Pursuing pleasure is a worthy goal. Life happens whether we are mindful of it or not, and being mindful of the quirky, the fun, and the meaningful makes these things stand out more in the mosaic of one’s time. We see what we’re looking for and, as I’m reminded every day, writing things down can help us see.
[Image: Flickr user Walt Stoneburner]