Happy talk

Dear Diary: Could keeping a journal be the key to wellness?

From apps to meditation, mental health and wellness is at the forefront of our minds. But what if it's as simple as keeping a diary, asks Christine Manby

Sunday 11 August 2019 20:31 BST
Famous diarist Margot Asquith caused a stir in the 1920s with her frank autobiography
Famous diarist Margot Asquith caused a stir in the 1920s with her frank autobiography

It’s not that time again – yet. New Year’s Eve is still a long way off. But for this week’s wellness hack, I’d like to propose something that we generally tend to think about at the turn of the year. It’s keeping a diary. I don’t mean just noting down your appointments in your smartphone’s calendar, but spending a little time each day to record what happened in the previous 24 hours and reflect upon how it made you feel. The kind of diary that Samuel Pepys kept.

I’ve never managed it for very long. Keeping a diary feels like a busman’s holiday for me as a writer, when for several hours every working day and most weekends I am chained to a laptop, churning out words by the thousand like that chimpanzee who would write the entire works of Shakespeare if he were only at the desk for long enough.

That said, I did keep a diary as a teenager. Sporadically. I have three diaries from the eighties, which I began each New Year and managed to keep for just a few weeks at a time. My favourite is the diary from 1983, when I was 12. I’d met a boy at a school disco. He asked me to go to the cinema to see the new Indiana Jones film. We’d be accompanied by his big sister, who was in the sixth form. It was an afternoon date with a chaperone but my parents still refused to let me go. Incensed by the unfairness, I scribbled that day’s diary entry in furious red pen, finishing my complaint with the cri de coeur, “I’m 12, dammit!” Thirty-five years later, I know if that I had a 12-year old daughter and a boy asked her out, I’d put her in one of those harnesses to stop toddlers from running out into the road.

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