Did you know that there is some Connection between Writing and Mental Health? This article explores how we can write our way to happiness and better mental health.
by Chinyer Nwosu
What is Happiness?
Definition, nature, psychology, and facts
Happiness is an emotion. We often use the term to describe a range of positive emotions like joy, pride, amusement, and contentment (See the article on ‘Know Your Emotions). Psychologists approach defining the term – happiness – from three perspectives
- Affective – This looks at how much positive and negative emotions someone tends to feel.
- Eudaimonic – In this case, someone’s sense of meaning and purpose in life is considered.
- Evaluative – Here measures how satisfied the person feels with his life.
Therefore, Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
Research has also shown that we lean towards cultural and social norms when trying to define happiness or understand it. People from cultures that embrace collectivist ideals view happiness in terms of harmony and contentment, while those who embrace individualistic ideals think of happiness in terms of joy and exuberance.
We all don’t feel happy at the same level all the time. Your level of happiness may also vary according to your environment, which in this case, is influenced by your family and social groups.
Facts about happiness
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” ….. Abraham Lincoln.
Research totally agrees with Abraham Lincoln. Here are some facts that research has proved to be true.
- Doing a good deed triggers the brain. We get feelings of reward when we do good deeds for others.
- Spending time with happy people builds positive emotions in us. Happiness is contagious. Hearing someone laugh may trick us into feeling happy.
- Happy people feel a sense of community. So prioritizing close family relationships and being around optimistic people will boost your happiness level.
- Sleep helps keep us happy. Rest when you need it, and get enough sleep.
- Happiness is a good remedy for maintaining your physical health. Cortisol (a stress hormone) is at a low level when we are happy. Happiness can also help alleviate pain (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2005)
- Listening to music can boost your mood. The brain rewards us for liking what we hear (Journal of Positive Psychology, 2013).
- Being outdoors can make you happier (Global Environmental Change)
- Happiness is hereditary. Research shows that we inherit a portion of our happiness. Happy parents make happy children.
- Relationships make us happier than money (Journal of Socio-Economics).
- Bright colours brighten your day (BMC Medical Research Methodology, 2010)
What is Mental Health?
Mental health measures our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It looks at how we think, act, and feel. This means that our mental health determines how we relate to others, our choices, and how we manage stress and other difficulties.
According to research and psychotherapy, positive mental health allows people to realize their full potential, cope with a stressful life, work productively, and make meaningful contributions to the community. People are encouraged to seek out activities and connections that can boost positive emotions, enhance, and maintain positive mental health.
Happiness can be a healthy remedy for poor mental health.
How Writing Helps Your Mental Health
How and where does writing come into this picture? The Surprising Connection between Writing and Mental Health include:
Writing brings clarity.
Activities that keep us active and our brain stimulated in a manner that processes our thoughts bring clarity. Clarity of thoughts makes us feel good about ourselves and gives us a sense of accomplishment at some level. Although the inherent problem may not have been solved, the brain rewards us for knowing what is and nudges us to seek where to start to attain a resolution. As Amanda said in the movie Kyle XY, it is not knowing that drives us crazy.
It is human nature. Yes, we are innately driven to seek out activities (both physical and mental) that promote positive emotions within us and create a happy life for us (and our loved ones). Research identifies writing as an important tool for clearing our minds.
Writing boosts the immune system and reduces stress.
Guided, detailed writing helps us process what we’ve been through and assists us to envision the future. This activity has also been connected to developing a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure and stress, lower anxiety, and general well-being.
Writing improves focus.
Expressive writing brings us clarity and greater focus. This means our mental health gets better the more we write. We get better sleep, and our performance improves as well.
Writing improves self-awareness.
Bottling up emotions can lead to psychological stress. Writing provides a safe and confidential way to disclose these emotions.
The more we write about what we feel, the more we understand ourselves and can define our emotions. This leads to increased self-awareness. Hence, we become more confident and open-minded in our relationships. Higher self-awareness can also make us more satisfied with our jobs and life, better decision-makers, and able to exercise more self-control.
Writing is a tool for healing – research evidence.
Writing is a tool for healing. Studies by James Pennebaker, 1986, document the impact of different types of writing on mental health. Other researchers, over the years, have confirmed that writing improves physical and emotional health.
Some notable studies on this subject include:
- Baikie and Wilhelm (2005) – found that expressive writing can have emotional and physical health benefits, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Gillie (2006) – his work asserts that using writing as therapy for eating disorders can be an effective way for students to connect with their stories and experiences.
- Frisina, Borod, and Lepore (2004) – conducted a meta-analysis of the effects of written emotional disclosure on the health outcomes of clinical populations. They found that it can have significant benefits for mental health.
Even though some researchers do not agree on how or why writing helps, some things remain consistent across human behavior and the psychological benefits of writing.
Writing therapy often uses the following forms of writing to support healing.
Employ the following to establish a connection between writing and mental health.
This is often employed in professional settings to help caregivers (teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, etc.) to become more effective at their jobs. Reflective thinking helps us assess our beliefs, actions, and inactions explicitly. It fosters learning and development. To write reflectively, we need to ask ourselves open-ended questions to encourage deep thinking and analysis of our experiences and interactions.
Expressive writing focuses on thoughts and feelings related to a traumatic or stressful event. Expressive writing is often used in therapy to help patients process their thoughts and feelings about difficult situations. Research encourages expressive writing because it fosters self-awareness and reduces the risk of anxiety and depression.
This explores our imagination, feelings, and thoughts about things around us. It can also combine our experiences with expectations and express them in unique and colourful ways using literary devices and imagery to convey the message. You can write a story to describe your views about the existence of ghosts or science fiction about the effects of pollution on marine life.
Overall, creative writing is used to challenge beliefs and experiences, propose solutions, and communicate something to others. Creative writing can be a poem, short story, novel, and novella.
Journaling involves writing our thoughts and feelings regularly in a personal journal. It can be a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety and improving emotional well-being.
Here, the writer describes our experiences in a structured and guided way. This helps us gain a deeper understanding of our experiences, look back at the experiences, and develop more positive ways of thinking about them.
In group therapy settings, writing can serve as an expressive or reflective tool. It helps members of the group to connect, gain an understanding of a situation, and support one another.
To leverage the benefits of writing to better your mental health, you should first identify what you want to process and/or achieve. Then, employ the type of writing that will help you achieve your aim. Focus. And write. Why wait? Write your way to happiness.
In conclusion, writing is a valuable tool for promoting mental health. It provides benefits such as helping to process experiences, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, improving emotional well-being, and enhancing resilience and coping skills. Writing can be used in various ways, such as journaling, narrative therapy, group therapy, expressive writing, reflective writing, and creative writing. With substantial research evidence supporting the connection between writing and mental health and its use, writing is likely to continue to be a valuable tool for improving mental health.