Keep a One-Sentence Journal, Be Happier

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Ever since I can remember, my grandma has kept a daily journal. Not a “Dear Diary,” emotion-filled journal — just a couple of lines jotting down what she did that day and whom she was with. Often, when the family is together, she’ll dig out one of her old journals and tell us what she and various other family members were doing on a random day, in, say, 1994. I’ve always been amazed at how interesting these little moments are in retrospect. 

So this morning, as I listened to the newest episode of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast, I was intrigued to hear her urge her listeners to adopt the habit my grandma has been following for years. Rubin calls it a one-sentence journal, and she herself has kept one for nearly a decade now. On her show, she talked about how she believes that reliving those daily moments has helped make her happier.  

There’s even some research backing up Rubin (and my grandma) on this: Last year, Ting Zhang at Harvard Business School published a paper in Psychological Science outlining a series of experiments testing how much people appreciate memories of the day-to-day moments from their lives. She asked people, for example, to write about a recent conversation, and then to rate whether the chat was ordinary or extraordinary; they then guessed how much they’d appreciate reading their written account of the chat in the future. 

Seven months later, Zhang contacted participants, asked them to read the memory they’d written down, and then to tell her how much they enjoyed it. Not only did most participants enjoy rediscovering the written record of the months-old conversation more than they’d anticipated, but those who’d written about an ordinary conversation were particularly likely to underestimate how much they’d appreciate reliving the memory. 

What seems like an ordinary moment today, in other words, could become a little more special with time. As one participant in Zhang’s study said, “Re-reading this event of doing mundane stuff with my daughter has certainly brightened my day. I’m glad I chose that event to write about because of the incredible joy it gives me at this moment.”