Did writing in the Five Minute Journal make me happier?

The full name of this journal is “The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day,” so this felt like the perfect thing to try; “a happier you” is promised up front for this product. The premise of this journal is that it helps you focus on the good in your life and cultivate gratitude, which has been shown to decrease stress and improve mental resilience, among other benefits. Each day you start with what you’re grateful for and what you want to focus on for the day and end the day with what went well and how it could have been better. Some pages have inspirational quotes and others have a weekly challenge.

I bought this product in August last year and have been writing in it off and on since then. This week, I attempted to write every single morning and night, and while I was able to write every morning, I missed a couple of nights. I have had a very consistent nighttime routine for a long time now, and it was more difficult than I realized to add something to it. Reflecting back on the week, it would have made a huge difference if I had put the journal and a pen on my bedside table so I could have written when I woke up and right before I went to sleep.

My favorite aspect about the journal is writing the three things that would make today great. I noticed that I would remind myself to do whatever it was when I was in the situation I had written it down for. For example, I wrote down “listen more than you speak” for an event I had to go to, and I reminded myself of that during the event when I felt like I wasn’t listening enough or asking enough questions. This made a huge difference in how that went.

I didn’t really notice any differences from the gratitude/amazing things sections of the journal. It was definitely nice in the moment to reflect but they didn’t seem to have a lasting impression on my day or mood in the same way that setting an intention for the day did. Once I finish this journal, my plan is to add a section in my bullet journal for a daily intention so I can carry that through rather than forcing myself to do all the steps in the journal, which felt repetitive over time.

Did writing in the Five Minute Journal make me happier? A little bit. There are aspects that made a difference for me that I will definitely keep doing, but I don’t think it’s necessary to spend the money on this journal, and it didn’t make a huge difference for me like it seems to have done for those who reviewed the journal on Amazon.

Did reading every day make me happier?

This week, I decided to read a book every day without any distractions. Like everything else I’ve tried, reading promises to lots of amazing things, like reducing stress and anxiety and improving memory and focus. I used to religiously read 10 pages every day and loved both the quiet time and actually reading all of the books we have in our apartment. I’m not sure when it happened, but I slowly started reading only every once in awhile and then only on weekends when I really felt like I had time. So, this week, I forced myself to sit and read every single day.

Over the weekend, as expected, it was really easy to carve out time to read, as it’s something I’ve already been doing fairly consistently. We went to coffee shops, where I now order something decaf, and read quietly with our coffee until we felt like we’re ready to do something else. It was relaxing, felt like such a nice break, and was much more satisfying than scrolling through the internet.

On weekdays, this was harder than I expected given that I used to read every day. There never felt like a good time, and when I tried reading before bed, I either fell asleep or got distracted really quickly, even though the books I finished (Algorithms to Live By) and started (Furiously Happy) are both incredibly interesting and great reads. This reminded me a lot of mediation; when it was working well, it was great, but it was hard to fit in to my life.

We also spent some time walking around bookstores looking for new books to buy, and I realized how much I missed the experience of shopping for books in an actual bookstore. This made me realize that there are probably other things that I tend to buy online that I should spend more time shopping for in person, both to enjoy the experience of looking through things and to be more thoughtful about what I’m buying.

Did reading more make me happier? While I enjoyed spending more time reading because I already like to read, I wouldn’t say this made me happier in the way that reducing my caffeine or dressing up for work did. I didn’t see a profound change in my stress levels or mood, and I ended up turning something I like doing into a task I needed to complete every day. For this one, I’m going to go back to sitting down to read when it makes sense, like on the weekends, and otherwise stop giving myself a hard time for not reading often enough.

Did focusing on the inner work instead of the outer work make me happier?

I was listening to the Happier podcast by Gretchen Rubin when I heard her say “do the inner work, not the outer work.” Her and her co-host Elizabeth were discussing why sometimes you just can’t fix a problem; you need to put a band-aid on it so you can move past it. In these cases, it can be much more productive and easier to change how you react to the situation than trying to change the situation itself. As someone who routinely is trying to fix everything and constantly worrying, I decided to make this my experiment this week. What if I could focus on myself and how I was going to respond to challenges instead of trying to change the behavior of others or fixing entire situations? Here’s how it went:

The thing I was most surprised about was that I was way calmer. Instead of looking at situations as stressful moments I would have to power through, I looked at them in terms of what actions I could take and let the rest go. I also stopped worrying as much. I knew that I was doing everything I could do, and everything else was out of my hands.

It also helped me see what wasn’t investing time and energy in. For example, we’re currently looking for florists for our wedding and have a pretty good idea of what we want. One of the possible florists sent us a proposal three times that included the wrong colors and number of pieces, even after she was informed of her mistake. Normally, I would have kept working with her to try to get it right so I could compare her proposal against the others. Instead, we decided this florist just wasn’t right for us. Doing the inner work (deciding what was best for us and moving forward with our decision quickly) rather than doing the outer work (trying over and over again to get the florist to be what we wanted) worked so well.

Did focusing on the inner work and not the outer work make me happier? A resounding yes!