Keep a ‘pain journal’ to track how much ‘you’ve learned and grown’, says Harvard happiness expert

Gratitude journals are widely known for their ability to cultivate gratitude and enhance overall well-being. However, there is another approach to journaling that can also promote happiness, according to experts. Social scientist Arthur C. Brooks, who teaches about happiness at Harvard University, suggests keeping a "pain journal" as a way to learn from challenging experiences in life.

To use a pain journal effectively, follow these steps for each entry:

1. Allocate three lines per entry: In the first line, briefly describe the painful experience you went through and how it made you feel. For example, "I lost my job, and I'm worried about my future."

2. Leave the two lines under the first line empty for the time being.

3. Return to the journal after one month and reflect on what you have learned as a result of that painful experience. Write about these insights in the second line.

4. After six months, write about a positive outcome or a good thing that has happened in your life as a result of that painful experience on the third line.

By engaging in this practice, you can acknowledge how you have grown, learned, and benefited from the challenges you have faced. According to Brooks, you might find yourself looking forward to writing in your pain journal as you witness your personal growth.

Research also supports the benefits of journaling for improved mental health. Spending as little as 15 minutes a day journaling has been linked to increased clarity of thoughts and feelings, improved problem-solving skills, and a greater ability to move on from traumatic experiences, as suggested by wellness guru Deepak Chopra and bestselling author Kabir Sehgal.

Moreover, expressing your feelings about painful experiences on paper can lead to acceptance, as consistent research has found a positive correlation between accepting one's mental experiences and enhanced psychological well-being (source: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2018).  

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