7 Journaling Tips to Feel Happy Every Day in Retirement
The practice doesn't need to be overwhelming, and it's more effective than you think.
Life can be overwhelming, and it's easy for our minds to fill with thoughts and worries about all that we have going on. But if you're looking for some refuge from those thoughts and hoping for more happiness, that's where journaling comes in: It's a simple and intuitive way to express your feelings and inspire positivity. This practice is helpful at any stage in life—with benefits for your mental, emotional, and even physical health—but picking up a journal is especially important after retirement while you're transitioning to a new phase of life.
"Retirement brings a new chapter of life and with that brings new dreams, goals, and challenges," Abbey Sangmeister, LPC, approved clinical supervisor (ACS), entrepreneur, psychotherapist, and burnout coach, tells Best Life. "Beginning a routine of journaling daily can help you to accomplish new goals and reflect on past memories."
Retired and ready to pick up this "mindful ritual," but not sure where to start? Read on to learn how journaling can help you find happiness.
Pick a journal you like using.
To start journaling, the first step is to secure a journal. Experts say if you want to make the most of your practice, maybe choose something other than the notepad you use to make grocery lists.
"If you are retired and would like to start journaling, I highly recommend picking out a journal you enjoy using!" Olivia Dreizen Howell, certified life coach, clinical hypnotherapist, and NLP, tells Best Life. "There are so many different types of journals, spiral, book-bound, etc.—some journals lay flat when open, others do not, so take some time to sit with journals and see what feels best to work with."
In addition, grab a writing utensil you like and will look forward to picking up.
"Make sure you have a pen that fits well, writes well, and feels good in your hands," Howell says.
Set a specific time to journal.
Sticking to a routine can be tricky at first, but once you're in the rhythm, it comes naturally. To establish this rhythm with journaling, clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Aging Joyfully, recommends picking a specific time to pick up your pen.
"Those who are retired often become busier than during their pre-retirement days," Manly says. "If your life is hectic, it's important to create a consistent time for journaling at least three days per week. Even if your schedule is not overly full, it's important to create dedicated time for journaling so that it becomes part of your self-care routine."
Manly suggests picking a time like first thing in the morning or after you finish dinner, but if you choose the latter, be mindful of what you're writing about.
"Avoid journaling about anything triggering for several hours prior to bedtime; this allows the psyche time to process thoughts and feelings and promotes better sleep," she says.
But don't feel like you need to journal for hours or every single day.
With journaling, it's specifically about the practice, not the length of time you're writing or the number of pages you're filling up.
"Allow yourself to write for an amount of time that feels ideal for you," Manly says. "Rather than forcing the process, it's helpful to allocate a certain amount of time, but don't judge yourself if you don't utilize the full time set aside. When you free yourself from expectations, you're likely to enjoy journaling far more."
If you do want to set a time limit for yourself, Sangmeister recommends going for 20 minutes without stopping, even if that means you're literally writing, "Um, I don't know what to write."
On a similar note, Manly reminds you that "everyday happiness" isn't synonymous with everyday journaling. Perhaps journaling on weekdays works better with your schedule, or maybe you like to start your Sunday morning by putting pen to paper.
"Journaling every day is terrific for some people but an overload for others," she explains. "Once retired, some people find they enjoy daily self-reflective journaling immensely whereas others find that journaling two or three times a week is sufficient. Interestingly, research shows that gratitude journaling is most effective if done several times per week rather than daily.
Find a special place to write.
You'd be surprised how much your setting can impact the journaling process. With this in mind, Carrie Rose, certified life coach and founder of SunUp Coaching LLC, recommends that you find somewhere special to start your practice.
"This could be your porch, your bed, a park bench, your kitchen table," she says. "Make journaling more than simply writing words on a page—connect it to a space. Perhaps add a cup of coffee, wine, or heck, get crazy and sip water while you journal! Connecting the habit of journaling to a place makes it more likely you'll continue the practice."
Journal about your goals at this stage in life—and reflect on your memories.
Rose also recommends taking some time to consider what you want to achieve at this point in life. What would make you feel happy? Fulfilled?
"Get your retirement hopes and fears on paper!" she says. "That's right, put words to this new life transition. Do you want to sleep in? Write that. Do you want to travel? Write that. Do you want to spend more time with family? Write that. It can be empowering to see goals written on a page, and also help you sift through and prioritize where to start."
Howell suggests reflecting on what you want to accomplish, but also taking the time to see jot down thoughts about your life thus far.
"I recommend journaling about the goal, and then working backward to see how the goal can be conquered," Howell says. "Retirement is also a fantastic time to journal about your childhood and jot down memories you can pass on to your loved ones."
Even further, if you're retired and find you're thinking about your career, reflect on those feelings as well.
"Perhaps you could write what you would want to share with people still in the workforce, or even with other retired people (or those considering retirement)," Rose says. "How did you get to where you are? It can be confidence-boosting even for yourself since, well, journals are not often read to other people."
Don't worry about spelling or grammar.
To avoid stressing yourself out, don't worry about little errors, grammar, or spelling mistakes when journaling. According to Howell, when you eliminate this fear and "write freely," your subconscious thoughts are more likely to present themselves—some of which you may not even realize.
"Keep the pressure off when it comes to journaling," Sangmeister says. "Spelling and grammar do not count."
According to Manly, your words should flow naturally, and you shouldn't be worried about censoring your own thoughts.
"As you journal, allow your thoughts, feelings, and words to flow without being concerned about form, syntax, or grammar," she says. "Journaling is not about 'getting it right' or 'making it perfect.' One of the true upsides of being retired is the ability to let go of the strictures of the work world; when you're retired, journaling is another way to explore and expand your newfound freedom."
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Remember, there are no hard and fast rules.
When all is said and done, keep in mind that there are no rules when it comes to journaling. No one has to read your private thoughts, and the inside of your journal can look however you want it to.
If you feel inspired to draw, draw! "Even if you've never been artistically inclined, journaling during retirement could be a great time to start sketching," Rose says.
Sangmeister recommends starting with lists or shorthand writing if that's more appealing to you, and perhaps finding some direct inspiration if you need it.
"Using journaling prompts is also a good way to start or if you feel stuck," she says, noting that she recommends starting with something like "I find joy in…" and being very specific.
"If you found joy in the beautiful day today, list what made it beautiful," Sangmeister suggests.