I started my first journal when I was 8 years old. I documented life-changing events such as taking care of my first cat, Izzy, and winning a dare against my archnemesis/brother (he had to eat dog food). As I grew up, I wrote of typical preteen angst, friendships made and broken, and puppy love shattered.
In high school and college, my tone changed. I wrote about feeling lost, overwhelmed and unsure of my future. I stopped writing about the happy moments in my life, focusing only on problems I didn’t know how to solve and unanswered questions that at the time seemed to threaten my very existence. But after writing, the problems somehow felt more manageable, even when I didn’t have a solution.
Related: Why You Should Keep a Journal
Since the mid-1980s, numerous studies have touted the benefits of writing about particularly negative or emotionally charged experiences. In simple terms, writing about negative or traumatic experiences allows our brains to construct a narrative we can emotionally handle. It provides closure when a solution or cause can’t be found.
But a 2004 study conducted by Chad M. Burton and Laura A. King challenged the notion that writing only about negative experiences is beneficial. In this study, some of the participants were asked to write about an intensely positive experience for 20 minutes each day for three days. Compared to the control group, those participants showed increased happiness, fewer doctor visits and overall superior health at their one-month and three-month evaluations.
Burton and King speculate that writing about the positive and negative experiences in our lives creates a heightened sense of self. By transferring emotions into written form, we can better understand our wants and needs, which can help build resilience to handle future emotional situations.
By allowing our brains to process negative memories and celebrate positive ones, we become both realistic about our past and optimistic about our future, no matter how uncertain it might be.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.