Can Writing Make Us Feel Better About Ourselves?
Having recently completed a book on happiness and meaning and how it links to ethical behavior, I want to share some of my insights about how writing can qualitatively enhance wellness.
According to Tara Parker-Pope, the founding editor of Well, the NY Times’s award-winning consumer health site, scientific research has found that the benefits of so-called expressive writing are significant. “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 behavior changes and improve happiness.”
If writing can enhance wellness on so many levels the question is how it occurs. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health. Expressive writing enables us to examine our own behavior and that of others, internalize the written word, and use it to improve how we interact with the world around us and reach out to others who may inspire us to be better people and better writers, all of which can make us happier and add meaning to our lives.
Writing can build our self-esteem. We feel better about accomplishing a difficult goal. We feel pride in our actions. According to Christian Jarrett, if you are currently lacking much confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, it could be worth giving the life-chapter task a go. It’s true that the self-esteem benefits of the exercise may be small, but the costs are low too.
Writing provides an enjoyable way to explore and express our feelings. It can help us get troubles off our chest. It provides an outlet to move past negative emotions like guilt and shame, and access positive ones like optimism and empathy. It enables us to connect with others and fight off loneliness that can lead to health problems. It can bring joy and build self-esteem.
Understanding the Past
Sue William Silverman, an award-winning author of four memoirs, two poetry collections and a craft book on writing suggests that writing memoirs helped her to gain clearer insights about her past by interacting and interpreting events that had occurred. She says, “Only when I put my everyday life on hold, so to speak, sit down at my computer and write, can I even begin to see a pattern to the rush-and-tumble of life. Memoir writing, gathering words onto pieces of paper or on a computer, helps us shape our lives. By discovering plot, arc, theme and metaphor, we give our lives an organization, a frame, which they would not otherwise have. Memoir creates a narrative, a life story.”
Understanding the past can be a stressful experience. It can remind us of painful times in our lives. Perhaps it brings up old fears or times when our behavior worked against our happiness and greater meaning in life. However, thinking about those trying times can help us gain a new perspective and writing about them can provide an escape from the past.
Write What You Know
Mark Twain said to “write what you know.” This seems logical but it doesn’t go far enough. We should add: “Write what you know about and that which inspires you.” It’s the inspiration part that can bring happiness and meaning not only to oneself but to others as well. When we are inspired to write, the written word can motivate others to do the same. Creative writing about a memoir or a novel about others can motivate other writers to express themselves and that is, after all, one of the goals we should try to achieve as writers – to share our knowledge and skills with others. That’s one reason writing groups like SLO NightWriters can be invaluable in our quest to hone our skills and grow as writers.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on April 1, 2020. Dr. Mintz recently published a book Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior that is available on Amazon. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics.