Is Your Journal Happy?

I’ve noticed over time that each journal has it’s own personality. It’s impossible to doodle on most computers, and certainly an iPad isn’t going to retain the ring from the coffee cup you set on the page in that Parisian cafe. The different ink colors from different pens I end up using are another reminder of the time and place. When a journal is full, it feels like an accomplishment, but it’s also sad. I’ve actually mourned a few notebooks, which were very good companions for a time.

With some notebooks I look back through them I feel so impressed with myself and what I put in them. Those are the happy journals. The book looks happy. It makes me happy to read it.

Others seem empty by comparison. They’re drab, boring. The journal is sad, or at least bored. It makes me think about how I was during the better time – what made it better? How do I get back there?

Sketching makes for a happier journal.

I think the amount of sketching and drawing I do makes the difference. Even the worst sketch brightens the page. I have one page where we were in St. Augustine Florida, at a cafe getting ready to have lunch. I tried to start a sketch of Susan holding our daughter Riley. It’s half a step above stick figures, and neither of them are even close to identifiable. But when I see it I remember that day, the place and what it was like.

Other sketches turned out to be purely functional, like the sketch of battery cables on the same trip. My brother in law was trying to charge the batteries in my father in law’s golf cart, and had to remove some of them and we needed to make sure we got it back together right. Again, it’s ugly, and really just served a purpose, but now it’s a nice part of the tableau.

Sketching is hard because I always hate it when I’m done. I hate it even more when I’m doing it. It’s never quite right, and if I’m using pencil I would end up erasing a hole in the page if I corrected myself until I was happy. I supposed that would be a great way to get better, but I don’t have the patience for it. Instead I do the best I can, grit my teeth, and either get bored making that picture or decide it’s unreclaimable and move on.

Usually I come back to it half an hour later and am pleased. Pretty funny, no?

There are times when I do enjoy sketching. I find myself drawing without thinking about it much, and those are usually the better ones. But while a good sketch is better than a bad one, a bad one is better than none at all.

I have some notebooks where I haven’t drawn much. Compared to those with sketches they seem cold, barren, and boring.

Purposeful writing

Sometimes I just want to write. What mean is, sometimes I want to use a pen on paper. So I write a lot of drivel – switching inks, switching pencil grades, whatever. Sometimes I write a lot of bah about should I do this or that or whatever. It’s filler. I’m doing it because I crave the act of using a writing instrument, but I don’t really have a purpose. This crap makes journals unhappy.

Ideas, plans, narrative about my life or my kids or travels or whatever has some purpose. This is useful stuff. It makes the journal happy.

I need to make my journal happy

My current book, for instance, is full of writing. No sketches. Ok, maybe a couple, but not many. And the writing isn’t of great ideas, or revelations, or even a nice narrative of what i’m doing. It’s meta journaling – writing about writing, or do I really like this book or not kind of drivel. The journal is unhappy, and I need to fix that.

How about your journal? Is it happy?

3 thoughts on “Is Your Journal Happy?

  1. I think journals are perceived as happy when we see ourselves in them.

    “But it is ourselves! They’re our journals, after all. Not someone else’s.”

    Sure. But we’re not who we were a moment ago. We’re only ever who we are right now. So in a way, looking back on your own journal is like looking back on a version of yourself that no longer exists.

    Didn’t expect a bit of philosophy, right? Here’s a winking face to do whatever it is that winking faces do. ;^)

    We know what we like, so if you want to get a happy feeling from looking at your journal, you simply have to add the happy stuff as you go. For instance, I know I like cute things. So last April I decorated my April pages with little dancing happy raindrops. July had patriotic dancing happy stars. It’s a letter to myself, really. A postcard from the past. I already know I’ll smile when I look at it.

    But I will admit that it’s not always easy to get there. And December is blank not because I wasn’t happy or didn’t want to make notes about my days wrapping gifts, but simply because I didn’t seem to have time left in the day to give to my journal. And the most unhappy journals are the ones that make us feel guilty for not fulfilling what we thought they should have been.

    And that, that is why the world has therapists.


  2. I’m new to journaling, but if we take your definition of “sad” then my journal is definitely sad. For the past 6 months nothing exceptionally “special” has happened, and thus whenever I would write, it would be out of boredom; just to feel the pen on the paper.
    My goal this year, like yours, is to fill the journal with actual events and sketches and ticket stubs and meaningful thoughts.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels like journals have a “mood”, and that “sad” doesn’t always mean sad, sometimes it’s just “meaningless”.


  3. What an interesting concept! I have never thought about a journal being “happy” or not. I have kept a journal or written in a diary ever since I learned to write in kindergarten. I have always written in a journal my entire life. Usually it has been the place I go to pour out the overwhelming intensity of my emotions that no one else is capable of handling and that I don’t know what else to do with. (I am quite a passionate person and feel very intensely; as a child I was labeled as “over-emotional” and “too sensitive.” If only they knew I didn’t even reveal half of what I was really feeling!) Needless to say, most of my journals have been beautifully marked with tear drops, or the page impressed with the fast heavy hand I used to write with when the words poured from me and my hand could not keep up with the onslaught.

    Now as an adult and a writer, I have different journals for different purposes. Some are for creative writing, which would probably seem like gibberish if anyone else read it; it is my unedited stream of consciousness creative and imaginary writing. It is often nonsensical and most of it probably not very good. But that’s okay. It isn’t for anyone else. It’s only for me and my imagination.
    Then I have my personal journal where I still pour out all my thoughts and feelings but also write memories, moments and dreams.
    I have a couple spiritual journals; one for church, one for my personal Scripture readings, impressions, study, etc. And another journal for whatever Christian book I am reading; I love devotionals and Christian classics so I am always reading a couple of those and writing down my thoughts and impressions.
    Then I have an expandable folder with loose leaf papers filled with poems, verses, prayers, revelations, quotes, and whatever else is on my mind! I also have separate folders for letters I write (I like to keep copies of some of my letters) and one for letters received.
    Writing is a large part of my life and so I have lots of different journals, folders, drawers, and systems to keep it organized. I am not really an artist so don’t sketch much. Sometimes I’ll draw a flower or two; I do love roses so. But WORDS! I am in love with words! Oh how I love the English language!!!

    I can go back to an old journal, from a year ago or ten years ago, and when reading the words on the page I call back everything I felt and what I was going through at that time. Some of it heartbreaking and some of it beautiful. Often both.
    If I evaluate too closely something I recently wrote I am often very critical. But if I leave it and come back months or years later I am sometimes surprised that I was able to write that in that particular moment. Sometimes I am just in awe of how good God has been to me through all my life; that is definitely a recurring theme in my life and journals! 🙂


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