As someone who has enjoyed keeping a daily gratitude journal for years, I believed I was getting the maximum benefit from keeping a journal. But while researching the health benefits of journaling, I stumbled across a study that is changing the way I wish to journal and show up in the world.
A Stanford study asked students to keep a journal while home on winter break. Half of the students were asked to describe the positive things that happened during their day (much like a gratitude journal) and the other half were asked to write about their personal values and how their values connected back to the day’s events. When the students returned to school the next semester, researchers found that the students who journaled about their values were healthier, reported feeling higher energy, and displayed more positive attitudes than the students who simply recounted positive events.
In her book, “The Upside of Stress,” psychologist Kelly McGonigal described the remarkable benefits of journaling about one’s values: “In the short term, writing about personal values makes people more powerful, in control, proud and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic towards others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control and reduces unhelpful ruminations after a stressful experience.”
“In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs (grade-point averages), reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a one-time mind-set intervention. People who write about their values once, for 10 minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”
I strongly believe these findings to be true, as I see the benefits of “knowing one’s values” reflected in my husband’s life. A quick story: While my husband and I were dating, a mutual friend of ours told me some exciting news and I couldn’t wait to share with my husband. However, as the friend and I continued to talk they said they were surprised that I had not already heard the news, as they had told my husband several weeks prior. When I asked my husband why he had not shared the information with me, he simply said, “They asked me not to tell anyone, so I didn’t.”
Surprised by his answer, I prodded to know more about why he didn’t spill the beans. My husband told me that he had always admired people who were trustworthy. As a result of knowing how much he valued trustworthiness as a character trait, he made the decision to be the person who his friends and family know they can trust. Close friends and family know they can tell my husband anything without fear of him telling anyone else. This “one-time mind-set intervention” my husband had as a young adult has resulted led to thriving relationships.
His awareness of what values are important to him has inspired me to examine my own values and make a commitment to align my actions with what matters to me most.
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Journaling opportunity: What values are important to you? How are your daily actions reflecting and aligning with your core values?
Kylie Alger is a certified wellness coach and co-owner of the Well-Woman: Body, Mind & Spirit. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org