Journaling with lists: exploring the things that make you happy

As part of my commitment to blogging regularly again in
order to share my work and my ideas, I’ve been thinking back over everything
that I have found useful since beginning my A Life Of One’s Own journey (there’s
more about that journey over here).  I
figure that if it helped me to move away from mass produced ideals of happiness
and meaning towards a life that feels more authentically my own then it could
also be of use to other people!  

Number one on that list of ‘stuff that helped’ was journaling (or journalling, depending on how you want to spell it!).  Journaling underpins it all.  It was one of the first things I started
doing and it remains my go-to as a place to think, explore, imagine and dream.  Whilst I primarily use journaling in a
personal context, it features in my work life as well as I keep a reflective
journal to aide my development as a coach.

‘The practice of journal keeping is being explored as a
way of becoming more aware of the patterns of our inner life, of growing in
self-knowledge and discovering our own gifts and possibilities…Keeping a
journal is just one way…of beginning to re-create your life.  At its most basic it is a decision that your
life has value and meaning and deserves the effort of recollection and
reflection.  It is also a decision that
what you are living and learning is worth recording.’

Jo Farrow, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice

I’m now quite particular and stick to lined, hardback
Moleskines but in the past I’ve used any paper I could lay my hands on, including
loose sheets of A4.  It doesn’t really
matter; what is important is getting thoughts out of your head and down on
paper.  There is something special about actually writing rather than simply thinking particular thoughts or
ideas.  Sometimes it simply brings
relief, like an exorcism from the mind; sometimes a new insight or fresh
perspective emerges.  It can also be pleasurable
in and of itself.  Part of my love of
Moleskines is the delightful feel of my pen on the page.  Journaling can be a creative act, or a prompt
to further creativity.  The inspiration
for this very post came whilst scribbling away in my pad first thing this

There are lots of journaling techniques – it isn’t all
about writing reams and reams of prose.
One tool that I’ve long used is list making.  I’ll simply pick a topic, often wording it as
a question, and then make a list in response.
This can be pure fun but it can bring great clarity and awareness
too.  For example, one of the earliest
journaling lists I made was ‘Places I’d like to visit’.  Fifteen minutes of happy daydreaming that
also highlighted some clear preferences that I hadn’t been aware of before (Japan
over China, for example).  Places to
visit might seem a flippant example but this kind of self-awareness around any
subject can be useful.  You can begin to proactively
shape your life around positive desires rather than feeling pulled in all
directions by myriad possibilities.
Opportunity for a day trip?  I’ll
pick Harrogate, thank you, as I now recognise how much I would like to go there
– thus visiting this place over somewhere else will bring an added level of
contentment by satisfying my own idiosyncratic predilections.  

List making is a discernment process that puts the spotlight
on what you individually are drawn to.
It also has the advantage of being super simple!  If you feel a bit overwhelmed or intimidated
by journaling, it is a great way in.  And
even if you have no desire to journal in a more traditional sense, I’d recommend
giving list making a go to see what it does for you.

Here’s a brief ‘how to’ and a prompt to try:

Using list making as journaling technique

A single word or short phrases, jotted down quickly, in
response to a prompt (e.g. a question or a phrase)

It can be used to explore or reflect on a topic, get
your creative juices going or record something that’s happened (like word

 Don’t think too much about your responses

Don’t worry if you feel repetitive – keep going!

It can be worthwhile to set a target, e.g. five
minutes, fifty words, fill a page

Try out either five minutes, fifty words or fill a page
on: things that make me happy.  

Let me know how you get on! You can comment below or
get in touch via Twitter or the Facebook page.
There’s Instagram too – share a picture of your efforts or comment on

Carpe Weekend

Most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘Carpe Diem’, or ‘Seize the day’.  Yet rather than seizing every day, often it is only on the weekend that we feel we have time to stop, collect ourselves and breathe.  This feature is designed to help with that: a small suggestion, tip or hint for you to try (if you wish!) over the weekend.  Maybe it will make a difference to your life, maybe it won’t, maybe it will prompt some other thoughts.  Enjoy – and seize your weekend!

The words for this week’s suggestion aren’t from me, but from a Quaker source. The passage below is taken from Advice and Queries 27, part of the wisdom and challenges offered to readers of Quaker Faith and Practice (Britain). I love the postcard with its opening words as shown in the photograph. It seems particularly apt advice for me over the coming days and weeks; I hope that it speaks to you too. So go, live adventurously in whatever way you can this weekend.

“Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts….? Let your life speak.”