Saturday, January 24, 2015

'Writing your way to happiness'

The headline in a New York Times Well column on Monday – Writing Your Way to Happiness – could not help but grab the attention of a writer.

This according to Tara Parker-Pope:

The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.

Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.

(That link leads to a study involving patients with renal cell carcinoma whose cancer-related symptoms were reduced and physical functioning improved after a trial of expressive writing.)

Those who keep journals know the benefits of writing down your thoughts. Sometimes it helps you figure things out. Sometimes it takes the pressure off and you can let a thing go.

After reading the Times column, I rummaged through my hospital stuff from the bad old days and found my journal, in which I wrote big thoughts and little ones. I "told" the journal some things that I was reluctant to say. For example, a day still stands out in my memory when I dragged myself and my IV pole down for a walk on the Pike and went through an area where cheerful people were laughing and talking, and I could not stand the fact that they were so happy. After I described the scene in my journal, I could let it go.

In high school we wrote with fountain pens dipped in ink, on blank white paper bound in black. It felt very artistic. Given some distance when I looked at them quite a while ago I was so embarrassed about writing repeatedly about a certain boy that I THREW THEM OUT. I think there should be a law against ever throwing out your diary. I still have the little red one from fifth grade with the "fool-proof" lock, however.

Well you can't throw out a blog. Sometimes I'm not even sure why I have written it since 2008, but I keep on doing it.

 I remember talking about our blogs with PJ – she had two, The Plog and Word in the Woods – and she said she didn't even care that much if people read what she wrote; she just wanted to do it. And Ann, of course, wrote almost until the day she died.

Naturally a writer likes to be read, therefore I like people to read my blog. But I also get upset with myself for falling into the trap of counting "Likes" and comments, a common malady for bloggers except for all but the most confident, I assume.

I have from time to time thought of stopping, but I keep going because writing the blog accomplishes that interesting thing described in the Well column, while not exactly what what you might normally think of as happiness but something more like calm.

This mechanism is undoubtedly why there are so many cancer blogs, and actually so much written about cancer and writing, for example a program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in which patients work with professional writers to create pieces that are staged by professional actors.

Websites on this topic include Writing and Healing: A Mindful Guide for Cancer Survivors, with prompts to get writers started, although judging from the way that words seem to pour out of the people who write about cancer, that doesn't seem especially necessary.

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