The Benefits of Writing

by F.

Can you write yourself happy? Seems like it. James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, has studied the effects of writing on people:

Writing about important personal experiences in an emotional way for as little as 15 minutes over the course of three days brings about improvements in mental and physical health. This finding has been replicated across age, gender, culture, social class, and personality type.

But not just any kind of writing will do:

Using a text-analysis computer program, it was discovered that those who benefit maximally from writing tend to use a high number of positive-emotion words, a moderate amount of negative-emotion words, and increase their use of cognitive words over the days of writing.

As David Wilson pointed out in Strangers to Ourselves, we can feel better by constructing a narrative that makes sense of emotionally difficult events. This is, after all, what therapy is: we provide a new story for ourselves. Back to Pennebaker:

These findings suggest that the formation of a narrative is critical and is an indicator of good mental and physical health. Ongoing studies suggest that writing serves the function of organizing complex emotional experiences .

Pennebaker’s article is here.