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Writing to heal

Happiness Book Club

There’s a saying that a problem shared is a problem halved, but what if it’s not something we feel able to talk about? Psychologists James Pennebaker, Joshua Smyth and colleagues have spent the last 30 years looking at the benefits of disclosure through writing. Their early studies asked people to write about a traumatic experience which they hadn’t shared with anyone. The results showed that while people felt less happy immediately after writing, longer term, they were happier and had fewer health problems, too.

Keeping dicult experiences secret, feeling ashamed or constantly churning over unresolved issues takes psychological work, and over time that can take a toll on us. The process of expressive writing can help us gain insight, meaning and resolution, and so it reduces the stress on our bodies and Minds. This isn’t about beautifully crafted essays or purely venting, but what the authors term ‘expressive writing’; writing about our deepest thoughts and feelings on an issue with focus, and without regard for grammar or spelling – just creating space to write freely, without stopping, for 15 minutes on four consecutive days. Importantly, we aren’t writing with an audience in Mind; it’s for us alone and we may not even reread what we’ve written.

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